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Secrets of the Highly Productive

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There are plenty of qualities that make a great leader—hardworking, responsible, empathy—the list goes on and on. One crucial characteristic that is all too often overlooked though, is time management. It’s a skill that can help you become more productive, accountable, and respected by your employees and customers. To get the secrets to becoming more productive, FenderBender talked to two experts on time management: Sheryl Driggers, owner of Universal Collision in Tallahassee, Fla., and Kevin Wolfe, president of LeadersWay.

Stay Organized with To-Do Lists and Calendars

While it may seem simple, writing down your goals and action plan can help you prioritize tasks and stay accountable. When a job is written down, it makes it tangible and we’re more likely to get it done, if only for the satisfaction of crossing it off the list. Driggers is a big advocate of the to-do list, and she gets her calendar involved to keep her on track, even when surprise detours appear.

“I take my to-do list of things I must get done and put them on my calendar—like a meeting. Nine times out of ten, I will have to move items around because there are things that come up, but I also plan for the unexpected,” Driggers says. “I might have to re-visit and make adjustments, but I always have a plan with the mindset I will be flexible to make adjustments as needed.”

Put People First

Calendars and lists work wonders for keeping you on task and organized, and there’s nothing wrong with writing down reminders to connect with people or take breaks, as Driggers has learned. Making a point to schedule non-work related activities can help you stay balanced and feel more refreshed to take on tasks.

“I use my calendar to help make sure I am not just filling up my time with task-focused items. I color code things on my schedule and can quickly look at the week or month and see if I am out of balance,” Driggers says. “Color coding on my calendar will show me if I am filling it up with these types of things and reminds me to intentionally block time to engage with my team or build relationships in our community.”

Wolfe has a similar approach to connections and relationships. He advises that leaders are only made great by their followers, so maintaining and nurturing your relationship with your employees creates a solid foundation to build off of. Without a strong and respectful relationship with employees, a leader will fail.

Wolfe believes leaders should work on strengthening their employee relationships so that when things don’t go as planned, they’re supported and helped by those who work for them. 

“My biggest lesson in over 25 years of working with leaders is that all leaders look the same when things are going well. It’s only when things fall apart that you can see those who have done the work to become good humans first,” he says. “The best don’t yell and scream or diminish other people when things don’t go their way. They provide people the training and resources they need to be successful and then hold them accountable to an agreed to set of results.”

Focus on Being Goal-Oriented

Having clear goals in mind is key to creating your daily tasks. WIthout something to work toward, motivation and productivity will fall short. Driggers likes to see the big picture, and plans out her daily tasks based on what she wants to accomplish by the end of the week, which keeps her on track and motivated. 

“The first and critical concept is to determine what makes today, this week, this month and this year successful for you. At the beginning of each week, I plan out my week by asking myself what will make this week successful for me? I then work backward from there to plan my week,” Driggers says. 

Having goals and clear plans laid out on how to achieve those goals will help keep you accountable and organized. Driggers says that while it’s important to be flexible with your plans, make sure you try to always lay one out so you’re holding yourself to your goals.

“Always have a plan. The plan may change, but with no plan you will never reach goals,” she says. 

Make the Work You Do Count 

While it may seem obvious, productivity is all about making prioritized use of your time. A common mistake made by people trying to be more productive is just filling up time with busy work, not work that actually matters. But quantity of work doesn’t always equal quality, so be sure your work always serves a purpose towards the larger goal, Driggers advises.

“What do I want to accomplish? Activity does not equate to accomplishment or success. We can be busy but get nothing done,” she says.

Wolfe also encourages his clients to pay more attention to prioritization, as he sees this as the key to actually getting things accomplished. There’s a difference between being busy, and being productive, he says.

“Prioritization is a practice we see with elite leaders and performers and it is the art of knowing what is important, what things will have the biggest impact on the overall result and then taking action,”Wolfe says. “‘Busy’ people work on everything, productive people work on the one thing that matters most.”

But how do you go about this? Driggers shares a piece of advice she once received that helped her learn to value her time differently—work like you’re about to have a day off.

“I learned from a leadership expert to treat each day like it is the day before you are going on vacation. It is incredible what you can accomplish when you know your time is limited. So if you keep the mentality, I have to get this done before I'm gone, you will be more efficient with your time.”

Slow Down and Be Present

While it may seem contradictory, slowing down on projects can actually save you time in the long run. Making sure you take moments to step back and view your progress can help you see cracks in the foundation, and fix them before they get out of hand. Make sure not to rush through work, as it will cost you more time to fix it later.

“Slow down to speed up. How many times do we have to do something over because we rushed through it?  To be more productive, slow down to get it right the first time” Driggers says. 

Focus on being in the moment and thoughtfully working on your goals.Trying to plan too far ahead or hurry through tasks won’t get you anywhere. According to Wolfe, the most productive people are those that know how to live in the moment.

“Elite leaders focus mindfully on the present moment and make decisions and choices based on what is most important.”

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