A Productivity Plan to Make Every Day Count

19.07.2020 |

Episode #4 of the course Ten essential traits for today’s leaders by Frank McKinley


Welcome to Lesson Four!

Last time we mastered the fine art of creativity. Today we’ll make sure you get stuff done every single day! In 1918, Charles Schwalb led America’s second-largest steel manufacturer, Bethlehem Steel. As a responsible leader, he wanted to make sure his company was as efficient as it could be. So he consulted the top productivity expert at the time, Ivy Lee.

“Show me a way to get more things done,” Schwalb said.

“Give me fifteen minutes with each of your executives,” Lee replied.

“What will it cost me?”

“Nothing. Unless it works. After three months, send me a check for whatever you feel it’s worth to you.”

Schwalb sent a check for $25,000 (worth about $431,500 today).


Here’s How It Works

1. Before you leave work today, write down six things you need to do tomorrow.

2. Start with the most important task.

3. Do one task at a time.

4. Continue each task until it’s completed.

5. If any tasks remain undone when the day ends, add them to tomorrow’s list.

With a list like this to guide you, you won’t confuse activity with accomplishment.

You can be busy and not accomplish anything. Kids at play are busy. But they aren’t checking off to-do lists. As a leader, you have responsibilities. Your 6 priorities can ensure you live up to what’s required of you. And they’ll make sure your activity turns into accomplishment.


Why It Works

It’s so easy to get derailed when you’re in charge. People will interrupt you all day long to ask for help. You’ll have fires to put out, messes to untangle, and train crashes to prevent. When you have a written list of what’s important for the day, your focus won’t get hijacked.

There are a couple of ways to deal with interruptions:

First, teach people how to solve their own problems. When people face a challenge, have them answer four questions:

1. What exactly is the problem? If you want to fix what’s wrong, you have to identify it correctly. Then you can take the right path to a solution.

2. What caused the problem? When you find and eliminate the source of your problem, you can stop it from ruining things. You can make adjustments when you see what’s not working.

3. What can I do about it? There’s usually more than one solution. List them all. Consider each one. Piece a couple together. Then you can…

4. Choose a course of action. Nothing changes until you start moving. Choose a solution, and act on it. If it doesn’t work as you hoped, just run through this process again.

If your team members do this, you’ll find you get interrupted a lot less. Give people the power to improve things and you’ll multiply your effectiveness.

Second, have an open door with conditions. An always open door policy sounds great in theory, but for it to work well you need some ground rules:

• Set the times you’re available if you can do this consistently.

• Define what an emergency is and how it should be handled.

• Assure your people you care about them, their growth, and their success.

You want to be friendly without being taken advantage of. If someone needs coaching, set the parameters and the schedule yourself. Your time is valuable, so use it wisely for the best effect. You’ll need to ask lots of questions to see where the other person is and what they can handle. Set milestones to hit so you ensure progress.

And be sure to set a finish line. Your goal is to equip your people so they don’t need you for most things.


Now Do This

1. Make a list of six things you want to get done tomorrow.

2. Arrange them in order of importance.

3. Delegate mundane tasks so you can do what only you can.

4. Finish as many as you can. If anything is left over, put it at the top of the list for the next day.

In our next lesson, we’ll see how having a sense of humor makes you a better leader. And it will make you healthier, too!

Lead well,



Recommended book

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity Paperback by David Allen


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