Being a productive leader is an essential component of a great leader. In this article, I’ll discuss 10 actionable tips to become a more productive leader. These tips are vital since they help lay the foundation for becoming successful in any type of leadership role.
What are the benefits of being a productive leader?
Productive leaders are commonplace among top-performing organizations. The way in which they operate with a high degree of efficiency gives them the following benefits:
- Command more respect throughout the workplace
- Possess more time to think clearly, strategically and creatively
- Focus on “leading” teams and not “managing” them
- Considered by team members to be in control and not chaotic
- Listen with strong attention to detail
- Make better decisions
- Greater alignment with top, mid and low-level goals (personal and company-related)
- Increased awareness to identify opportunities
- More reliable and flexible
- Deliver valuable results
As a leader, do you relate to any of the advantages listed above? Let’s explore the 10 ways that help make them a reality.
1. Push back with confidence and negotiate
Have you ever come across the “yes man“? The yes man gives every effort to please those above, by accepting any new work that comes their way irrespective of available bandwidth. More worryingly, if they’re in a leadership position, there’s little thought of the impact their decisions have on the team. It’s a destructive trait to carry since it can block everything else that makes a productive leader.
If you’re new to the idea of negotiating against (or possibly refusing to own) extra work, it’s likely going to be a pretty uncomfortable experience the first few times you do it. This is especially true if you’re pushing back against your seniors, for example your boss.
However, it’s imperative to start doing it as early as possible to set the right expectations and not risk being taken advantage of continually.
Continually accepting additional work is a bad habit
Naively, many people state the obvious and keep it far too broad: “I already have too much work to do”. That often doesn’t resonate with others, particularly those in more senior roles.
Think carefully about the repercussions if you freely accept more work. You need to know your current priorities and confidently demonstrate if any of them will be compromised.
It might be fine to carry out the new work, but then what existing projects will fall short? For example, you can take on Project XYZ now, permitting it’s OK that Project ABC and EFG won’t be delivered on time.
2. Avoid lingering or hesitating when making decisions
It’s unpleasant to see a person in a leadership role being indecisive. A certain type of character might naturally struggle to make decisions, and that’s unfortunate. The truth is though, it doesn’t bode well for them in the business world (if they want to be in a position of authority).
A productive leader is decisive
Whether the decisions are simple or complex, strong leaders act fast when making them. That’s not to say choices must be made in an instant. Rather, they shouldn’t drag out to the point where they become detrimental to the business, or other people involved become frustrated. It’s an easy way to downgrade your reputation quickly, it can lead to decision fatigue.
Make complex choices with inputs from other people (particularly your team members), when it’s appropriate to do so. Avoid going round in circles. Instead, once you have the required information at your disposal, act upon it, deciding with speed and conviction.
3. Use software, apps, and tools to structure and manage workload
There’s so much productivity-related technology available, that there’s no excuse for not leveraging it to help boost productivity.
The depth of software, apps and tools on marketplaces can be somewhat overwhelming, but you need to start somewhere and invest time into finding the ones you enjoy using. It’s a fun part of becoming a productive leader – experimenting with technology in aid of making work life more manageable.
When used correctly software products help make you more efficient at work
Think about the projects you run – do you use software products and best practices for managing projects and tasks effectively? How do you collaborate seamlessly on projects with your stakeholders? Check out products such as Monday.com for this purpose, as well as Asana, ClickUp, and Wrike.
Furthermore, how are you tracking all of the smaller tasks that collectively occupy a lot of your time every day? Are you able to clearly prioritize them and provide visibility to your team? Use a to-do list app – start by reviewing the best free to-do list apps available.
Build a schedule for maintaining tasks in your chosen solution. For example, in the morning, afternoon, and at the end of the working day, dedicate small amounts of time to review and update your day-to-day tasks.
4. Run effective meetings that have a purpose
Collectively, unproductive meetings cost companies in the US approximately $37 billion per year. It’s seemingly trivial and easy to avoid inefficient meetings, yet it’s amazing how common they are in most workplaces.
A productive leader runs effective meetings by ensuring the following list of items are true for all meetings he/she hosts:
- It’s short (a maximum of 30 minutes unless it’s legitimately impossible)
- All attendees on the list are necessary
- A clear agenda is defined with intended outcomes, and all participants are provided with these details before the meeting
- Relevant materials are provided to the audience before the meeting
- It starts and ends on time
- Action points and notable items are captured, logged, and communicated clearly at the end of and/or after the meeting
If you’re not the best at note-taking or capturing action items during a meeting, then look into the option of delegating this duty to one of your team members.
5. Make the time available during working hours to do “nothing”
This might initially sound ridiculous, but it’s not… A key part of being productive during the working day, is to have free time to yourself to simply “think” or even daydream. This can lead to new creative ideas where you initiate some of your best work.
Granted, daydreaming can be counterproductive if it’s of the wrong type. For example, don’t gaze out the window while contemplating what shoes to wear at your friend’s wedding next weekend. Instead, stay “in the zone”, but with nothing to distract you.
Banish all distractions by scheduling “nothing” time
This approach promotes holistic thinking that is otherwise difficult to come by if you’re working against a packed schedule. Adopt the Time blocking productivity technique to help create a logical schedule, and make sure to include “nothing” time blocks.
Frequently overlooked topics like operational improvements, new product opportunities, and people development can be given the attention they deserve.
Note: this “nothing” time excludes and is unrelated to your actual breaks.
6. Be in control of administrative tasks and duties
No matter what role you’re in, there will always be admin tasks to complete. Whether you’re reviewing/approving team member expenses, or signing contract extensions for vendor services, there is no getting away from some form of recurring administrative work.
A less productive leader lets this type of activity slip, to the extent that it frustrates team members and colleagues, impacting their own lines of work and ultimately slowing them down (unfairly).
Productive leaders are in control of their admin
Take ownership of all of your admin and complete it before it turns into an uncontrollable mess. Block time in your calendar for it, and push meetings/other work out to a later date if required.
Friday afternoons are typically when most people at work start to wind down. Although there is nothing wrong with that, think about investing an hour of your Friday afternoon into clearing the admin workload. This type of activity is usually a lot less complicated than your other duties, and by getting it out the way, it’ll make the coming week less busy.
7. Know when to delegate and exclude yourself from the details
Large corporations typically maintain well-defined career tracks. Take banks for example where it often looks similar to this: joining after graduation (with a bachelor’s degree) as an Analyst, then moving up to Associate, Vice President, Director, and for those that make it that far, the arguably glamorous Managing Director title could be on the horizon.
That may sound straightforward, however, there are stiff challenges ahead upon climbing those ranks, especially when “people management” and genuine leadership skills are put to the test. For example, leading a small team of individual contributors requires a different approach to managing managers.
Build a culture of trust to enable your team to thrive
Mindset shifts are necessary from the perspective of knowing when to step away from the detail. Is it productive for you to run the status update calls and the daily stand-up meetings? Or, is your Team Lead capable of taking ownership, perhaps to the extent that you don’t even need to attend them?
Trust plays a big part, and it’s paramount that you build it with your team. You can’t do everything, and why should you?
A productive leader who hires smart people gives them numerous opportunities to step outside of their comfort zones and develop. Upon doing so, those people will be grateful and more inclined to produce high-quality work, ultimately resulting in you becoming a more successful leader.
8. Meticulously plan with a schedule that’s easy to follow
A calendar full of appointments and meetings, often back-to-back and sometimes side-by-side, is a frequent sight among the “busy” leader.
Unless you have an army of staff doing all of the “non-meeting” work for you, then this type of schedule quickly becomes unsustainable. It promotes stress, brings out the worst in people (ability and personality-wise), and leaves barely any downtime to focus on other work.
The first step is to take control of your calendar, by carefully planning ahead what the next 2-4 weeks “might” look like. I say might, because of course not every day runs as smoothly as you’d want – there will always be things suddenly occurring that throw you off guard.
Create a habit of frequently revisiting and revising your calendar days in advance
If other people are firing meeting invites all over your calendar, then it’s crucial you block time in it (at least a week or 2 in advance) where you have no actual meetings. For example, for lunch, to update your to-do list (2-3x per day), to “think”, and to work on emails.
After a short while of routinely running with this method, which is technically related to time blocking, you’ll feel more comfortable pushing back and declining invites.
Make a habit of spending 10 minutes at the beginning and end of each working day, previewing and altering your schedule for the coming days and weeks. Empower yourself to free up space – remove/decline any meetings that are unnecessary for your participation.
9. Eliminate the risk of any distractions when focusing
Any type of distraction is a severe blocker to performing meaningful and complex tasks productively. Nobody can focus on and deliver work that requires specialist skills when there are constant distractions.
Do you have email, instant message and social media notifications switched on for the entire day? If so, turn them all off. At a minimum, disable email notifications.
Extended periods of concentration enables progress in high-value work
Implementing this tiny change can lead to dramatic improvements in your ability to focus for prolonged periods of time on valuable work. Enable yourself with more time to concentrate, and avoid having to continually restart after an interruption.
Dedicate effort to your emails 2-3x per day at scheduled times, rather than letting them pop up on your screen every few minutes. Make use of the “Do Not Disturb” status in the likes of Microsoft Teams and Slack. Block time to then later write, read and reply to instant messages in batches.
10. Establish clearly defined goals and work towards fulfilling them
This isn’t only important to you becoming a more productive leader. It’s also a key element for your team to operate efficiently and grow. A team moving in the right direction has a clear roadmap containing the goals to achieve within certain timeframes.
Look at it from the perspective of your personal development, as well as the development of your team (and individual team members). Getting both components right can lead to great career satisfaction, relationships and success, across the board.
Roadmaps for achieving objectives are critical for a productive leader
Utilize proven methods and tools for building your objectives, such as SMART (goals that are each Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely). This increases the likelihood of fulfilling those goals through a meaningful and serious plan.
Do you have a roadmap or timeline that factors in your team’s goals, broken down into milestones and smaller chunks of work? You need one since it helps you and the team visualize the requirements to succeed. Manage, track, and reference everything with certainty.
What do you think of the strategies outlined? Leave a comment with your thoughts, or suggest additional ways to become a more productive leader!