Reading Time: 11 minutes

I recently had the pleasure of appearing on the Fordify Live! Business Growth Show hosted by Ford Saeks. Ford is a successful entrepreneur, author, and consultant, CEO of Prime Concepts Group, and a Hall of Fame business keynote speaker. We had a great conversation about how to do more with less, how to incentivize the right behaviors, and how to empower your team’s productivity.

For the full conversation, be sure to watch the video. Or, you can read some of my favorite highlights here:

 

How Can You Do More With Less?

Ford: Well, so we brought you back because…on our previous episode we talked about the difference between attention management versus time management. And then there’s a lot of questions that people are always talking about—you should be able to do more with less. What would you say to those listeners about that myth and what their understanding is?

Maura: Yeah, I have so many business owner clients coming to me saying, “I just need to get more out of my team. I don’t want to overwork them, I don’t want to burn them out, but we need to serve more customers, but I can’t afford to increase headcount. So we really need to find a way to do more, either with less than we have now or with the same amount of people.” 

But the problem is that, unless you have a team of slackers—which I haven’t met any clients yet who have a team of slackers—everybody’s already doing the best they can. And so you can’t get more until you increase people’s skills and give them the tools that they need to be more effective…to produce the same amount in the same amount of time or in less time, so that you can increase your company’s production without increasing the headcount or the overhead.

 

Are You Incenting The Right Behavior?

Ford: There’s a great video going around right now on the internet about a girl who got fired from CloudFlare and she was in sales and she was on TikTok….She worked for CloudFlare as a salesperson, didn’t get a sale in 90 days and got fired. So she went to social media to say, ”Look, I worked hard. I had high output.” 

So she was saying, “Because I had a high output, I shouldn’t have been let go.” And me as a business owner, and I know the other side of the camp is like, look, “If you’re in sales and you haven’t sold anything for 90 days…you can run east looking for a sunset. You could be busy. That doesn’t mean you’re effective….”

Maura: Yeah, oftentimes I think leaders incent the wrong things. So I had a call with a client recently and she was thinking about dropping her team down to a 30 hour work week, and she ran a call center. So as we’re talking, she’s like, “I think this would be really great for morale. I think that my team has more capacity to give. I think that this would incent them to be more effective.” 

And so what we talked about was that she was incenting people for the number of calls that they made per day, or that they took per day, but the scores on the customer satisfaction surveys weren’t that high. And so what she realized is that she was incenting them to get people off the phone as fast as possible, not to thoughtfully solve their problems in a way that satisfied them….

And so it’s really like this much bigger question about what do we want, what kind of results do we really want, and are we incenting the team on the right things?

Another way that leaders sort of incentivize is to talk about how they want people to be responsive. People want people to be responsive to communication, but being responsive often means being fast. And if you need to be fast to respond to communication, or only to certain kinds of communication, then you have to watch every message as it comes in to see, “Is this the one that I have to respond to right away?” And if you have to watch every message as it comes in, how do you get any other work done?

 

How Can You Empower Your Productivity?

Ford:  I think that there’s a lot to be learned from this, from being productive. And what does productivity really mean? And I would consider you the expert on empowered productivity. Again, it’s not being productive, but how do you empower your team to be personally accountable? And that’s one of the things that I like. So based on all that, what could a viewer and a listener do to be more empowered and to be more productive? Where should they start?

Maura: Most people don’t have the skills, really, to deal with the volume and the pace of business. We go to work and we sort of do the best we can, and we do whatever happens to us….So doing whatever happens to you means that most people are spending more time every day being reactive and less time being proactive

And there are so many reasons for this. One reason is that being reactive is more exciting. It’s more interesting: 

  • What’s this new email going to bring?
  • What is this exactly?
  • What is this about? 
  • What problem can I solve right now? 
  • And what else can I do? 

Because I don’t really feel like working on: 

  • This strategic plan or 
  • This spreadsheet or 
  • This video editing or 
  • Whatever I’m supposed to be doing.

That’s not as much fun as what’s new, what’s coming in.

And so part of the appeal is that it’s very tempting to respond, and it’s easy. I don’t have to stop and think. I don’t have to know. I don’t have to make any decisions. I just read the next email in the list and then another one comes in and I read that one, and then I go to the meeting and I sit in the meeting and then I come back and all the messages piled up while I was in the meeting. So I can just read those messages until it’s time to go home. 

But the problem is, we’ve got all of these responsibilities that we need to execute to do our jobs. And then a lot of people say to me, “Yeah but reading these emails and staying up on this communication is part of my job.” 

It is part of your job, but isn’t it also part of your job to do the actual work that people are counting on you to do? 

So Empowered Productivity is this whole workflow management system, and it’s got six components. It kind of serves as a framework for leaders to look at— “Do my team members have skills in these six areas?” And we can sort of talk about what they are.

 

What Is The Empowered Productivity™ System?

Ford: Let’s get into a framework for it because I think it’s one of the things that I love about working with you: you’re strategic and tactical. You’re strategic from a thought process. How do you become an open-minded critical thinker and actually change behavior? But then you’re not just a theory. Your stories and your keynotes and your training are very specific so you can actually move the needles. 

A lot of presentations people can go to and they get some good—it feels good—and they got some great ideas, but they don’t necessarily know how to execute. And you really do lay out a plan. 

So I know we won’t be able to go deep into all six, but I think it’s important. Let’s give everybody a roadmap of what the areas are. People can be strong in some of them. What are the pillars?

 

Module 1: Genius Unleashed

Maura: Sure. So the first component, I call it Genius Unleashed: How to Harness Your Brilliance Through Attention Management.

So this piece is all about distraction. We are distracted by everything all day long and when we sit down to do a task, we’ve got emails and chats and the phone ringing and text messages and all this stuff coming in. So how do you devote any uninterrupted work time so that you can really sort of unleash your genius? 

You can harness all the things that you were hired for to begin with. Not only: 

  • Your knowledge and 
  • Your wisdom and 
  • Your skills and 
  • Your experience.

But also: 

  • Your humor and 
  • Your diplomacy and 
  • Your leadership skills and 
  • Your tact and 
  • Your kindness and 
  • Your empathy.

All those things that you are hired for to make you good at your job. You can’t muster those things in the one minute increments that we usually get before we switch what we’re doing. 

….You need to get your distractions under control by managing your attention so that you can focus for an uninterrupted period of time. So attention management is the foundational piece of empowered productivity.

 

Module 2: Success GPS

Maura: Once you’ve got your distractions managed, now you have to know what to do. Most people don’t know what to do. If you take away communication, take away email, a lot of people are like, “All right, where’s that list I made? Where are those sticky notes? Where’s that to-do list I had somewhere? This list is a mess.”

And I see you’ve got highlighters, you’ve got arrows, you’ve got [things] crossed out, you’ve got stars, right? You’ve got the whole thing. So you’ve got all of these things that you need to do. Some of them are appointments with yourself on your calendar. Some of them are on your list, some of them are in your app, some of them are in your CRM, some of them are in your head, some of them are on a sticky note.  

Ford: Are you in my office somewhere?

Maura: Right? You’ve got flagged emails that you have to do something with. So where do I even start? And just that piece, everything is scattered everywhere. That feels so overwhelming that most people will procrastinate on that all day long. “I don’t know. Let me get a cup of coffee and let me just check my email first and let me rewrite my list and let me prioritize this. Where should I even start?” And before you know it, an hour’s gone by and you haven’t done anything….

So having a system to manage your actions: 

  • Where do you collect it? 
  • Where do you store it?
  • Where do you organize it? 
  • How do you prioritize it? 

All of that. That’s the second pillar of empowered productivity. Most people aren’t very good at that.

 

Module 3: Conquer Communication Clutter

Ford: I want to keep going. And this isn’t for anybody else, this is for me. I’m getting a personal coaching session…

Maura: The next pillar is about managing communication because, let’s face it, you could spend all day every day doing nothing at all except reading and responding to emails, listening to voicemails and calling people back, reading and responding to text messages, reading and responding to chats. 

You could literally spend every minute, all day doing just that. And many people do. And it’s because we get way more communication than we could ever respond to in any lifetime. You just get too much. And so the third pillar is how to manage communication.

So well, a couple of tips: One thing is to save any email that you want to save—I don’t care what you save—but don’t save it in your inbox. Once it’s done and you’ve dealt with it, you don’t need it, right? Either delete it or file it, but don’t save it in your inbox. And it doesn’t have to be fancy. People are like, “But if I’m going to figure out a way to store it, I need to have folders and what category am I going to put it in?”

And then they have all these folders, hundreds of folders, and then folders within folders. And then people are like, “I can never find what I need, so I’m just going to leave it in my inbox.”

So just make one folder, call it “Emails I Want to Save” or call it “Email Archive” or something, one folder, save whatever you want to save and just save it there. And then use your computer’s search feature. 

People are like, “Oh, then it would be too hard to find.” Well now it’s buried in your inbox anyway. It’s going to be the same thing. 

But if it’s not in your inbox, you’ve already dealt with it. And so then what’s left in your inbox is just things that you need to do, things that you need to deal with. And that eliminates so much clutter, so much clutter.

Ford: …I used to save emails. Now I delete because I started thinking to myself in the decades that I’ve been online, I rarely have to go back and find that one email, and by that point, it’s like a moving parade. We talked about that because Maura’s been on the show before and she’s like, “Well, Ford, in our last episode we talked about this.” 

 

Module 4: Battery Boost

Ford: Oh, after communication management, then what?

Maura: Yeah, so the next piece is, I call it Battery Boost. This is burnout and management work-life balance. I mean, right? Because most people spend too much time, [and] most people never really disconnect. And when you never really disconnect, then that’s what leads to burnout because you start to get resentful about how work is always invading your thoughts and invading your personal life. 

Here’s the biggest thing about work-life balance: You can’t get a fresh perspective on something you never step away from. 

And so no matter how much you love your job, you need a fresh perspective, and you can’t get a fresh perspective unless you disconnect. Not just evenings and weekends when you don’t spend time scrolling your email and trying to empty your inboxes and catch up on things, but also extended times, long weekends and vacations, so that you can do other things. 

Because when you do other things, like read books—even books that aren’t related to business—see movies, talk to people, go have experiences, that’s where creativity comes from. And so when you go spend some time doing those things, you refresh your creativity, and then you’re more energized and motivated and you have a fresh perspective when you get back to work.

 

Module 5: Performance Rewired

Maura: Okay. So the fifth pillar: I call it Performance Rewired. And this is about understanding your habits, shining a light on the habits that you have. When you’re sitting at your desk doing your work, what kind of habits do you have? 

You reach for that pad of paper, you reach for those sticky notes, or you take notes by hand in a meeting, and then what do you do with them? 

Or you just automatically leave your email open and downloading all the time and you never put yourself on Do Not Disturb…what are your habits? You have a dry erase board in your office where you write down important things. What are all of those habits? 

Let’s shine a light on those habits and find out, “Are they serving you?” And you have a way of saying this, I know it’s time to get new habits, whatever.

Ford: …If you have a habit that isn’t serving you, it’s time to get some new habits. 

Maura: Right. But the problem is, most people just operate the way they operate. They don’t look at how they operate. So that’s where workflow management really comes in. Companies hire consultants to look at the company operations, but what about the way each individual operates when they’re sitting at their desk? Have you ever looked? 

….Because a lot of people don’t know how habits form or how to form new habits. And so the way that you operate, I can tell you how to manage your action, and I can tell you how to manage your communication, and I can tell you how to manage your attention, but when I leave, you’re going to go back to your old habits unless there’s a catalyst for recognizing those habits and changing them. So that’s what the fifth component of Empowered Productivity is.

 

Module 6: Everyone Wants To Work Here

Maura: And then the last one we talked a fair bit about on our last episode together, which was, I call it Everyone Wants to Work Here, which is the name of my book, which is about culture. If the culture doesn’t support the best practices for team productivity, then the team won’t be able to change their behaviors. 

So for example, I talked about how we switch what we’re doing every 47 seconds. We do that because a new message is coming in, so I’ve got to stop what I’m doing and look at this new message that came in. And so we shined a light on that and say, that isn’t helping. You’ve got to be off email for 20, 30 minutes, an hour so that you can get some important work done.

But if the person says to me, “My boss will kill me if I don’t see this email that just came in and I wait an hour to respond, I’m going to get in trouble.” Well, now you can’t do anything about that, so we have to fix the culture so that the team can implement the new behaviors that they learn. And that’s my latest book: Everyone Wants To Work Here.

 

Closing Thoughts

Ford: Well, I think that this has just been an amazing episode for everybody watching. Any closing thoughts that you’d tell our listeners? Where can they go or what should they do next? 

Obviously I’m going to do a little plug for you. Go to maurathomas.com, watch her demo video. Bring her into your organization if you want to improve performance, improve productivity, and improve your culture–which is what she’s a master of—and do it in a practical and fun and entertaining way. What I like is she’s humorous and practical, and she really makes things that are complicated make sense.

Maura: That’s really kind of you. I think you covered it. There’s a book series. All the books have free discussion guides that you can download. So in advance of that, if you want to talk about bringing me in, I’m happy to train your team. 

But if you have a smaller team, (each book takes) an hour to read, have a little book club, and then that will put you on the path to shining that light and saying, “Are we operating in the most efficient way?”

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