There's an app for just about everything, it seems. While our technology allows us to take our work with us anywhere and everywhere, we are still not as productive as you would think. Carey Nieuwhof recently shared 9 principles each of us should consider putting to practice to increase our effectiveness and productivity.


Ask any leader, they’ll tell you: it seems to be getting harder and harder to get anything accomplished at work. Let’s dial that back a notch: it’s getting harder and harder to get anything done anywhere. Why?

Well, advancements in technology have made every leader more accessible at the same time they’ve made us more productive. For most leaders, increases in accessibility have now outpaced all gains in productivity. And that’s a problem.

No time management app is going to fix that.

So what do you do?

Here are 9 hacks that will seriously boost your productivity at work. Some of them can help right away, as in they’ll actually make a difference today.

1. Don't Respond to Everything That Comes Your Way Right Away

In an era when everyone can reach anyone anytime, most of us have fallen into the habit of responding right away to everything that comes our way.

That’s a mistake. Actually, that’s a huge mistake.

If you want to see how bad it really is, keep count of all the times your phone buzzes, rings, and vibrates during the day. Just because something came your way doesn't mean you have to respond right away.Ditto with the notifications you get on your laptop or any other computer you use.

Then add to that the number of knocks on your door and interruptions you get. Some of you will be in the dozens. A few of you will be over 100. And you wonder why you’re not productive.

Here’s a baseline rule you should adopt today: don’t respond to everything that comes your way right away. Leave it for later, when you have some time.

I’ll drill down on this idea in more finessed ways in this post, but just drill it into your head that just because something came your way doesn’t mean you have to respond right away.

2. Don't Feel Obligated to Deal With Every 'Crisis'

Well, you say, nice advice. But what about a crisis? Surely you have to respond right away to a crisis.

Well, think that through.

For sure, there are real crises that need attention immediately. When there’s a car accident and a child is hurt (or worse), or a key member of your team ends up in the emergency department, that’s a crisis. And usually, that deserves immediate attention.

You can come up with a list of things that for a church or organization your size and stage, should be considered a crisis. It’s a helpful exercise. But realize this: not everything people call a crisis is a crisis.

Their marriage may be in tatters, but I promise you it didn’t dissolve overnight and won’t resolve overnight. Sure, they may be going bankrupt, but today is the day they decided to reach out to you to talk about it…their bankruptcy has been a long time coming and will be a long time resolving. Or maybe their son had a meltdown at school and they feel they want to talk.

So, even if you are the person who needs to deal with it (see point #3 below), Just because something feels like a crisis to someone else doesn't mean it needs to be a crisis for you. Not everything people call a crisis is a crisis.that doesn’t mean you need to deal with it right now, on your writing day, or day off, or meeting day, or during your gym time. You know how simple it is to deal with a situation that presents as a crisis but isn’t a true crisis? Give them a quick call, empathize, and then tell them “I can meet next Tuesday at does that work for you?”

99% of the time, reasonable people will thank you for making the time and that will be that. What about the 1%? Well, when you meet with them on Tuesday and are fully present, that will be a real help to them.

Just because something feels like a crisis to someone else doesn’t mean it needs to be a crisis for you. All of these scenarios have been building for months or years. So it can be dealt with next Tuesday if you’re indeed the person to deal with it.

3. Don't Solve Every Problem That Comes to You

Let’s drill down even further.

So maybe you get in the habit of responding later, but do you need to respond to everything that comes your way? This is a particular problem for pastors and solo-preneurs. We have an “I’m the leader, so of course I’ll handle it” default that’s hard to deprogram.

Which leads us to the third hack: you don’t have to solve every problem that comes to you. Even if you’re the senior leader, you don’t have to do this. And if you want to grow and you’re the senior leader, you definitely shouldn’t solve every problem.

Sure, the senior leader is ultimately responsible for everything in an organization. But just because you’re responsible for something doesn’t mean you have to do it.

The CEO of Disney is responsible for everything, but chances are you won’t find Bob Iger in the animation room drawing cartoons, or in accounting working on a cash flow statement.

Just because it’s a problem doesn’t mean it’s your problem.

So...who else can handle this? A staff member? Volunteer? Outside counsellor? A colleague? Someone on Fiverr or TaskRabbit?

Just because it’s a problem doesn’t mean it’s your problem.

4. Be Regularly Unavailable

Nobody wants to be the leader who is completely inaccessible, but that doesn’t mean you need to be a leader who is always accessible.

There should be meaningful pockets in your week, and probably every day, where you are simply unavailable. If you think that’s impossible, just start with an hour a day. Then you can increase to the level that’s best for you and your job.

It’s in this pocket when you’re unavailable that you will:

  • Write your messages or your next talk.
  • Do your best thinking.
  • Move through long term planning and goal setting.
  • Tackle that big project that requires concentration.
  • Prep for upcoming meetings and presentations.
  • Work on a fresh strategy.
  • Read, reflect and plan.

Basically, these should be pockets of time where you If you fail to be unavailable at work, you will be unavailable to your family, on it, not in it. And you need to work that into your system. Why?

Well, this is where your best work will get done, where your breakthroughs happen. When your best ideas surface.

Here’s another benefit. You know who suffers most when you fail to do this, right? Your family. If you fail to be unavailable at work, you will be unavailable to your family, instead.

5. Turn Off All Notifications on Your Phone

I have been doing this for years, and it makes a huge difference.

Why have all five of these first productivity hacks been focused on getting you a lane free of distractions and interruptions?

Because, as research and experiments have shown, A constantly distracted leader is almost always a struggling leader.workers get interrupted as often as every 11 minutes during the workday, and it takes 25 minutes to refocus after each interruption. The math doesn’t even exactly add up, but you get the point. That’s why it feels impossible to get anything done.

A constantly distracted leader is almost always a struggling leader. If you’re worried about missing key conversations, don’t.

First, you’re probably distracted enough as is to check your phone every 30 minutes anyway. I am. And almost everything can wait thirty minutes. Second, you can program most phones to allow certain people or favorite contacts to bypass your DND settings. So if you’re worried about your kids, you can do that.

If you’re not convinced, try it for a day. You’ll be amazed at how eerily quiet your world becomes and how much you can focus.

6. Take a Break...and a Nap

As research has shown, your productivity naturally drops over the course of the day.

On Episode 233 of my leadership podcast, I do a deep dive with NYT Daniel Pink on his book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing on how productivity naturally drops during the work day and what to do about it. You can listen for free here or read the episode transcripts.

You’re probably tempted to push through when your brain gets foggy or you get tired enough to fall asleep at your desk. Often that’s the best time to take a break.

Go for a walk. Grab a cup of coffee. Leave the office for thirty minutes. Take a nap. Do some pushups. Do something to reset your body and brain, and you’ll be surprised at how much clearer you are when you return.

I’m a huge fan of mid-day naps. After a nap, I’m not quite as fresh as I am in the morning. But most of the time I still feel like a phone that was operating at 43% battery life that just got charged to 85%. It’s good for a few more hours of solid work.

Nobody gets promoted for staring at their screen like a zombie. Get up. Move. Refresh. Reset.

7. Sleep More

Speaking of sleep, you’d think that when you’re really slammed you should cheat sleep to get more done.

Actually, that’s a terrible strategy. According to medical research, chronic lack of sleep can cause weight gain,An exhausted leader is an ineffective leader...and usually not a very nice person to boot. age your skin, harm your sex drive, impair memory and can contribute to illnesses as serious as diabetes, heart attacks, strokes and even premature death. That’s right, lack of adequate sleep can literally kill you.

I burned out over a decade ago, and since then I’ve taken my sleep much more seriously. For the past few years, I’ve tracked my sleep nightly using a smartwatch. The more deep sleep I get, and the more I hit 7-8 hours a night (I personally have trouble sleeping beyond 8 hours), the greater my mental clarity, focus and honestly, kindness.

An exhausted leader is an ineffective leader…and usually not a very nice person to boot.

8. Take Up a Hobby

I know, you’re thinking: this has nothing to do with work, and who has time for hobbies?

So many leaders I talk to confess to having no hobbies. And it’s hurting them at work. I had no hobbies before I burned out, and it’s one of the reasons I burned out. You are not designed to work all the time.

Over the last decade+, I’ve found three hobbies that I truly love that energize me: Guess what, leaders? Work is not a hobby, even if you love what you do.cycling, boating and barbecue. 8 years ago I bought a used road bike that I’ve logged thousands of miles on…it’s two birds with one stone—exercise and something I love.

I also have really gotten into barbecue. And good barbecue takes time. When it takes you 18 hour to smoke some pulled pork or 24 hours to smoke a brisket, it forces you to slow down.

Then for a social hobby, I really enjoy boating. We head out with family and friends all summer, and even two hours on the water is like a mini-vacation.

And guess what? Work is not a hobby, even if you love what you do (and I do).

9. Learn to Say No

I saved the hardest till last.

If you want to really boost your effectiveness and productivity at work, Leaders who say no to good things ultimately say yes to great have to learn how to say no. It’s the key to scale. It’s the key to sanity. Frankly, it’s the key to having a family who still loves you.

Saying no is so important, and so hard for so many leaders, I actually recorded a free training video for you on exactly how to say no and why it’s so critical to do it. You can watch the free video here. Hope it helps!

As you know, leaders who say no to good things ultimately say yes to great things. It’s the key to so much in life and leadership.


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