Learn how to become a more productive leader by focusing on the four core elements of alignment, prioritization, delegation, and time management.
Productivity is something we all strive for and most of us agree that being productive leads to success. Defining productivity is a little more challenging than striving for it. Chances are, most people have a different definition of productivity, whether that be lines of code, number of defects fixed and found, time to task completion, revenue generated, costs reduced, or all of the above.
No matter the ways that you define productivity, there are almost always ways in which you can enhance it. Unearthing strategies and honing tactics can help you be a better and more accomplished leader, both for your team and the managers you answer to.
1. Aligning goals to increase your productivity
Have you ever had one of those days where you’re feeling productive? You woke up, you had a good hair day, the commute was smooth, you closed out all of your to-do lists, and even got some shout-outs from teammates that reinforced how awesome you are. And just when you’re about to pat yourself on the back for a job well done you hear a ping on Slack reminding you of the task you forgot about. And you get an email stating that you’re over budget. That’s when you also remember that you agreed to cook dinner tonight, but have no idea what you’re going to make. Suddenly, you’re not feeling so productive.
Your idea of personal productivity is very reliant on external factors. Your to-do list is only as long as other people’s “asks” of you. I think of these people, in both personal and professional capacities, as stakeholders. It's important to understand how they influence your definition of productivity and once you have that definition, you can set about making a plan for being as successful as possible.
First and foremost, of course, we must understand what drives us. Ask yourself what makes you feel the most fulfilled or where you feel your time is best spent. For me, I enjoy being a mentor, being a bridge builder, and being an evangelist.
After you have a strong idea of your personal strengths and interests, solicit feedback from others. Opening this question up to the people you work with could lead to answers you hadn’t considered. Ask them what they would need from you, in an ideal world, to be a productive figure in their lives. For example, my teammates value my mentorship and want to see more or as much of it. They also recently highlighted wanting to see me at my desk more often for ad hoc conversations.
Feedback from your team is important, but feedback from your manager is crucial. This is especially the case as they can influence your career trajectory. Understanding your manager's definition of your success is the best way to make a case for yourself during review cycles. Making sure that your manager understands your goals and vice versa certifies alignment on your future, maybe even helping you get there faster.
2. Prioritizing efficiently for enhanced productivity
Hopefully, the “asks” of your team and managerial stakeholders overlap, but, every so often, they may come to be at odds. What if your goal is to do heads-down focused work in service of closing lots of tasks, but your manager’s idea of productivity is seeing you in endless meetings? Those two things probably can’t both exist at the same time, so what now?
There will be times when stakeholders want a lot out of you, and it’s probably going to feel overwhelming. Firstly, remember that you deserve to be here and that you can handle it all.
Then work to address the tasks that are being asked of you. Here, prioritizing is your best friend. If you’re an overachiever like me, your first inclination is likely to tackle every single item on your list. You may even wonder if you can just skip things like eating in order to get it all done. Take care of yourself first so that you can take care of others.
Then, take a look at each list of requests you have from your stakeholders. Not everything can be the most important, so pinpoint tasks you can de-prioritize or that are non-starters. Ask your stakeholders for more information. Perhaps they are being too prescriptive with their asks and you can compromise on another solution.
Understanding and organizing your tasks can help you to delegate them to others on your team. Keep in mind that just because you are responsible for the completion of a task does not mean that you need to do the work. There should be opportunities to delegate all or part of the task. Hopefully, you will be able to use previous conversations with your reports about their long-term goals to inform these decisions.
Some conversation starters that can facilitate discussions to uncover these areas are:
- What tasks do you most and least enjoy working on?
- What do you most excel at (i.e., what's your superpower)?
- What do you want to learn more about or have more exposure to?
Once you have the answers, sharing the workload in a mutually beneficial will be a lot easier.
4. Time slicing
Once you see the full picture of what your expectations are, it’s important to organize your workstreams. Some might require lots of focus time, whereas others require 1:1 attention or large meetings. Depending on your personality, you might need to balance a large meeting out with focus time after in order to recharge introverted batteries. Or maybe you have a hard time with context switching and need a full day of focus. Look at time slicing your days, or even weeks, to allow for time for each of your productivity goals.
Productivity in today’s world
Productivity means different things to different folks. It's not just about your own goals but also about what your manager, team, and even your loved ones expect from you.
Understand your unique strengths, gather feedback, and align your goals with those around you. Whether it's finding common ground or becoming proficient in the art of prioritization, delegation, and time management, these strategies will help you boost your productivity.