How to Lead Highly Productive Teams

To Lead Highly Productive Teams: Keep Them Focused on What Matters Most

If you want to increase productivity at work, maintain a relentless focus on what matters most in three areas. First, ensure your team understands their big strategic priorities. Next, give them clear direction on short-term goals. And finally, help them understand the most important daily behaviors that will lead to success.

When There’s Just Not Enough Time: Beyond Time Management

“I just don’t have time. There is so much to do that some days I just want to give up!” – Halisee, Software Engineer

Halisee called us looking for help with the overwhelm.  Between her own important tasks, the needs of her team members, and her supervisor’s expectations, she’d been working 60-hour weeks, and she felt sick and strung out.

“My calendar is wall-to-wall meetings, often with two or three appointments competing for the same window of time. And it’s only gotten worse now that I’m working from home. We have MORE meetings, not less!”

Have you been there?

If you’re like many leaders we work with, you face an unending stream of information, problems to solve, decisions to make, fires to put out, interruptions from email, texts, phone calls, messaging apps — and that’s not to mention the strategic projects you want to work on to build a better future.

It can seem like you’ll never get ahead.

Productive leaders focus their time and energy on the activities that produce results and build relationships despite the crush of activity – or perhaps it’s not “despite” the demands for their attention, but because they embrace the challenge.

To Increase Productivity at Work, Embrace Your Limits

There will always be more you could do than you possibly can do.

To stop feeling overwhelmed, start by accepting that frustrating fact.

We call this approach to time “infinite need, finite me.”

At any moment in time, there are literally thousands of things you could do, but you get to do only one. That’s it. One.

Before you can focus your time and energy on results, reach an understanding with yourself that you can do only one thing at any given moment. Don’t talk yourself into thinking you can really make a difference on that muted conference call while you also try to help the employee who needs real advice—all while responding to a text escalation on your phone.

You won’t give any of those situations the attention they deserve.

Of course, you understand these limitations intellectually, but when you truly internalize and make peace with the fact that there’s always another thing, it frees you from the overwhelm. You can’t do it all and you never will. So, stop trying.

This is the freedom to focus on what matters most.

To Lead Highly Productive Teams: Focus on the Most Important Things

As you free yourself from the demands of doing everything, the natural next question is, where will you focus? One hallmark of productive leaders is that they focus on what matters most.

We call this commitment to doing what matters most “Mind the M.I.T.” – that is, Mind the Most Important Thing.

Infinite need, finite me. Mind the M.I.T.

There are three levels of M.I.T. to think about:

  1. Long-term or strategic initiatives
  2. Short-term objectives
  3. Daily behaviors

1. Strategic M.I.T.s

When you look up and view the horizon, where are you going? What is the most important outcome your organization or team will achieve in the coming years?

Typically, you’ll have no more than three answers to that question. These are the big objectives with time frames measured in years. If you’re leading a team within an organization, your strategic M.I.T.s often come straight from the organization’s strategic plan.

Strategic M.I.T.s are the North Star that helps you navigate the complexities of day-to-day business.

2. Short-term M.I.T.s

As you organize your weeks and months, there are specific activities and outcomes that will move you closer to your strategic M.I.T.s. Productive leaders maintain a relentless focus on these short-term outcomes and ensure that they make regular progress toward them.

If you have a clear project plan, you may clearly know your short-term objectives. If not, to identify your short-term M.I.T., choose a unit of time and ask, “In this week/month/quarter, what is the most important thing we can do to move us closer to our Strategic M.I.T.?”

3. M.I.T. Behaviors

At the heart of productive leaders and their teams is a clear focus on the day-to-day observable activity that directly leads to results. What are the three or four specific, observable activities that get you where you need to go? They may repeat weekly, daily, or even many times each day, but a clear understanding of the day-to-day behaviors that drive success is critical.

Your Turn To Increase Productivity at Work

Managers who’ve been through our leadership training tell us this shift in focus and prioritization of behaviors has changed the game for them and significantly upped their productivity at work.

The M.I.T. becomes part of their daily vocabulary. Consistent reinforcement like “Our M.I.T. this quarter is …” or “What’s your M.I.T. today?” keeps everyone focused on what matters most.

We’re curious. When you think of improving productivity at work, what’s your M.I.T.? What are the most important behaviors that will help you get there?