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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #15: I Know You’re Busy, But Busy Doing What?

September 19, 2018
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #15: I Know You’re Busy, But Busy Doing What?

Everybody is busy, but busy doing what? Though they often get used synonymously, there’s a big difference in being busy and being productive. And, in order to become a strong Level 3 leader, you must focus on production. In Episode #15 of the Executive Leadership Podcast, Chris Goede and Perry Holley will explore the Law of Priorities and a paradigm shift that leaders can take today to address this.

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Read the transcript below:

Welcome to the John Maxwell Company Executive Leadership Podcast where our goal is to help you increase your level of influence, increase your reputation as a leader, and increase your ability to fully engage your team to drive remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holley, a John Maxwell Company facilitator and coach and I’m Chris Goede, Vice President of The John Maxwell Company. Welcome and thank you for joining.

Chris, the title of this episode is, “I know you’re busy, but busy doing what?” and I have to tell you, I’ve taken a worldwide survey and I can report conclusively that everybody I know and everyone they know is busy. Everybody’s busy. My question is: busy doing what?

My wife asks me that question all the time, as well, but, I concur with your findings. I think absolutely all of us are busy no matter what your role is as a leader, as an individual contributor. I think we’re all busy. Unfortunately, I think where the disconnect is, is between the word being busy and being productive. I think that those are two things. I think today — I love your title and your thought here because I think what we have to make sure is that we may feel really busy and some people enjoy that and it may feel good to them, but if we’re not producing, if we’re not at a Level 3, we’re not producing ourselves and then in and through our teams, the outcome is not going to be what we want it to be. You know, we talk all the time. We can’t just sit around and sing koombaya at Level 2. We have to be productive and we have to really focus on what that looks like. You know, when you asked this question, some of the dangers that came to mind of being busy versus productive where this, I think as you become a multitasker, right? And you don’t necessarily focus, you get distracted, you will procrastinate, you will do other things and it will take you away from what you’re supposed to be doing.

Oftentimes, I find myself doing this if I have a big old list of things to do, I’m going to take the least path of resistance and just start marking off. I like to see things crossed off that list, you know, and then I’ll look back and I’ll be like, man, that was just a bunch of busy work, I took the least path of resistance in doing that. And I think if you get too many things on your to do list and it just becomes kind of what you do, that’s going to become important to you and you’re just going to repeat that every day. You could be like, how big can I make this list and I want to begin to cross it off. So, you’re going to lose focus and you’re going to lose the ability to be productive.

Yeah. I always think of the, urgent versus important quadrant, that little bottom right. That’s not important. Not urgent, not important, but that’s where we go and we do those to do list things. Just look easy. What can I d? Nah, that’s too important, that’s too big. I can’t do that. I come home from work. My wife says, how was your day? I had a great day. Do you get a lot? I got a lot done. She says, any of them matter? Nothing. Not a thing. It was all trivial stuff to do that. I actually feel like I’m, as a leader, this busy, productive, a dichotomy here is really troubling because I could make it about me, am I being productive? But then I’ll look around my team and they’re focused on being busy. It’s almost like a merit badge. Did you get that done this week? Why were you late for that call? Why didn’t you show up? Why did you not do that prospecting? I was busy. I was busy and that’s where I came up with the busy doing what was my question?

Because I don’t think we’re doing the right things. I gave a speech in Norway a month and a half ago. And I was watching the news there and they’re there to putting in a referendum to try to take the workweek from 40 hours to 30 hours a week will be the official workweek and I think they look at us and think, how sad it is for you people that can’t get your job done in 30 hours. It takes you 60 to do that. How they must look at us. But when you think about a leader helping not just himself but their team to produce more and not just be busy, what are your thoughts going on?

I think it’s a great question because I think oftentimes it’s funny when you just made a comment about your team looks busy. I know as leaders were like, Oh yeah, we’re busy, right? And oftentimes, we judge ourselves by our intent of being productive. At times we judge our team by the actions that we see of thinking that they’re busy. And so a result of that is that our team will act busy or do busy things to look busy, but they’re really not being productive. And, so one of the things that we do around The John Maxwell Company, and it’s something that John has taught us and I know that even Corey Baker, one of our executive coaches, facilitator teaches on this and has shared some examples on it to where you have a conversation with your team, which is this, it doesn’t matter what’s on this list, but I want you to create a list of every thing you are doing and then let’s come talk about it.

And so what you need to do is challenge your team to say, put everything on this list and then we’re going to get together and we’re going to have a conversation about what is aligned with our objectives and where we’re going and what is a producing item versus a busy item. Because something that they may think is important to me as a leader or maybe producing, maybe there’s not clarity, they’re going to be attacking and I’m going to look at it as busy work, right, and so if you have that conversation, maybe even on a weekly basis, right? It’s something that you start and you guys kind of review this together and you say, Hey, here are the top two or three things. Yes, I know that they’re going to take the majority of your week and the majority of your day, and you could probably knock out three quarters of the list below that in a half a day, but you don’t understand, this is what we need for you. This is the productive side.

So, I encourage you to have that conversation with your team is have each one of them create a list of everything, no shame here of what they’re doing, and then review it with them and help them re-prioritize and organize that so that it’s a productive movement. It’s creating momentum for the team.

So, you’re really talking about priorities, but not just your priorities. Helping them with their priority and what they’re working on. I worked for a CEO once and he just called it MITs. What are your most important tasks? But he did it for the quarter that we’re in, but he said, what are the top four things you’re working on in the quarter? But every Monday, my time was 4:00 PM. Every Monday at 4pm, I had a 30 minute call every, every part of the senior leadership team had a call with them on Monday to review what did you do last week on those MITs and what are you going to do this week on those MITs. When I first got that, I thought this is silly. And then I realized what focus he was putting on either of the thousand things I could be doing. What are the four, maybe five? Yeah, probably three that I should be doing. What are you working on to move your MITs, your most important tasks for this week? And it just caused me when I’m sitting at my desk going boy, those pencils sure need sharpening. That’s busy. What are you doing is making a difference and where you’re going the least path of resistance.

Especially when we’re tired or worn out, right? You’re going to be like, I’m just going to do this. And we mark off the list. Brian Tracy wrote a book, eat that frog. I think it was based off of a Mark Twain quote that says, if your job is to eat a frog, do it first thing in the morning. If your job is to eat two frogs, make sure you eat the biggest one first. Right? And I think that we as leaders need to help our team, right? Identify which are the frogs that we need them to attack and which ones are the biggest ones to go through that and help them with their priorities. I know I’ve heard you teach a lesson to a client, and the importance of boundaries and priorities. Tell our audience a little bit about that.

Well, the boundaries. That’s a Dr. Henry Cloud quote. If you haven’t read his work, I highly recommend it. He started with just boundaries, but he realized its boundaries in marriage boundaries and leadership. So he has a boundary for leaders, and so I was struggling with so busy, so many things to do that I started looking at it at my house where I live, I have a fence around my backyard and we’ve downsized, it’s a small yard is fenced for and so everything inside that fence is my responsibility, the care for the grass, the watering, the plants, the picking up after the pet, whatever is. But one centimeter outside that fence. I don’t even look over there. I don’t actually don’t know what’s over there because there’s a boundary there that were my responsibility stops and I started thinking, but in my work it is like the wild west of the United States with wide open, no fences, no boundaries, everything’s in play. And what you learn, we all have learned that if everything’s important, nothing’s important. And I was trying to do everything.

So what Dr. Cloud would teach was that if the situation. I love this because they said where you are today, if you’re really happy, everything is going great and you’re being productive and you’re producing the results. It’s because of two things, what you created and what you allowed. On the other hand, if things aren’t so well, you’re out of control. Your hair’s on fire and nothing’s getting done because of two things, what you created and what you allowed, and so that caused me to start thinking, why don’t I have fences in my work like I do at my house? What are the fences I could put up? That’s one of them. You think about that. There’s even for your team, what’s an example of a fence that I think leaders do a great service to their team when they help put the this or the boundary. If someone now somebody asked me, they challenge me in front of a workshop one time, so you’re saying you would never help your neighbor? Not what I’m saying. However, if I’m spending all my time on my neighbor’s yard and my wife looks over the fence and she sees weeds in her yard and dog had been picked up after and the grass hasn’t been watered, there’s going to be a problem about why are you busy doing something that’s not a priority. Although one of my priorities are complete, I love to help my neighbor. I often help my neighbor. Yeah, but that’s not my first priority. My boundary is, this is what I create, what I allow that I can allow that, but I have to take care of my yard first or I’m going to have trouble at home. So that’s right. Think about that for your team and for us as leaders where do we go with that?

Yeah. It’s funny when you were saying that, I thought about a illustration that I heard one point in time saying if your house and your property was up on a hill, it’s much better to build a fence around the yard than a hospital at the bottom. And I think about that. I think man, as leaders, if we get caught up in that busy work without a fence around what’s going on, that hospital becomes a nonproductive team. And to your point, we’re not talking about not having cross-functional influence and supporting teams in different departments, but you have to focus on our boundaries and your priorities first. Speaking of priorities, John, in the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership talks about the Law of Priorities and he says: leaders understand that activity is not necessarily accomplishment. And I was like, oh, that hurts because like you said, we were really busy today.

We need to understand that leadership is not about comfort, it’s about progress, it’s about movement. And so we need to know that sometimes being busy is comfortable for us and it’s comfortable for our team and we need to make sure that we get outside our comfort zone, that they get outside there and we’re challenging them to do that. John says also in this chapter about Law of Priorities, he says, you cannot maintain your priorities if you fill your life with business. It’s this common theme we have today in this conversation about difference between priorities and productiveness versus being busy.

I have a bad habit, going from one thing to the next thing, the next thing. And my wife said, you have no margin. I said, what do you mean by that? You have no more, you have no space. You’re one thing to the next, to the next. So that’s great. So when I think about these priorities and boundaries and things, I have to tell you the biggest excuse when I asked people why they’re not handling their priorities is “I don’t have time.” Now, I don’t know if you’re aware of this. I’ve done another global survey that I stand behind 100 percent. The findings, I’ve spoken in 47 countries and I definitely did there, but I did some googling on all the other countries of the earth. They all have 24 hours in a day. No one has more time than anyone else. So my question then becomes, we all have the same amount of time. What have you done with yours?

Yeah. How are we using it? I think that maybe even the wording for that is now instead of, I don’t have time, it’s, I didn’t take the time. That’s the more honest anyway. I didn’t prioritize. I didn’t focus. So yeah, that’s probably the more honest answer there. So, you know when I think about this and I think about the fact that we didn’t take time and how we should be allocating our time as leaders. That’s really what we’re getting down to is how should we be allocating our time and focus on, as well as our team members. I think, you know, John wrote a book, Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. So I’m a big believer that great leaders ask even better questions, especially of yourself, you know, we talk about self awareness a lot in leadership and the hardest person to lead is yourself and you can’t lead yourself until you know yourself. And so I think what you’ve got to sit down and look at when you’re looking at your list of things that you’re doing is that you’ve got to ask yourself what are two or three things that only I can be doing for the organization or only for my team? Like what are those top two or three? You mentioned maybe four or five, but we’re really only going to probably do two or three that only I can be doing for the organization? And, when that happens, those things have to be at the top of the list. Those are the frogs that you need to be attacking and eating first because you are the only one that can do that for your organization. And then I would challenge you to say, okay, what’s below that list is things that could be given away.

John says that if someone can do something 80 percent as good as you can, give it away and and then he goes on and says, because pretty soon they’re going to be doing it 85 percent as good as you are saying. And then leaders be, they’re probably going to do it better than you can. And you look at the old principle and you think about everything that’s on your business. Everything that’s on your list right now, it probably aligns with the 80/20 rule, right? So 20 percent of is probably only what you can be doing for the organization. And the other 80 percent of what you’re doing can be given away to somebody that can do it as 80 percent as good as you can. So I challenge you to say, Hey, what is that list? How do I rank it? And then look at attacking what you and only you can do for the organization. Right?

Well, I know I was blessed to get a book contract and I was bragging about it to people closest to me. They say, when in the world are you going to write a book? And I’d had this problem for years. Why is you running out of time? Why don’t you exercise? And I don’t have time. Why aren’t you reading? I don’t have time. And I realized I’m not taking the time. So I put my mind to it. But then I thought, well, where am I going to write this? So I did a little exercise. It seems a little silly, but I took a page out of a daytime or you can also just pick a blank sheet of paper, write 12 – midnight at the top and 12 –  midnight at the bottom and draw a line across the middle. Right? Twelve noon. And, then I started just drawing out in big animal pictures. So work, let’s say the word block. I just draw a block from 8am to 6pm. It may flex, it may move it may expand on some days, but in general purposes, that’s my work day. Between 6 am and 10pm, that’s my family time, home and family. So I just put 6 to 10, blocked it off. I’m not a good sleeper, but I know I need to get sleep. So I said, I normally was getting four or five, that’s not healthy. So I thought I need to get seven. So I say seven from 10 to 5am. And then I looked at this and what else do I have? I have nothing. What am I looked down? I’d bet a big hole between 5:00 AM and 8:00 AM. Well, what have I been doing with that? Sleeping in, staying up late, watching movies or playing video games, whatever it is. I said, well, I’m going to change. We’ll take that three hours and that’s when I’m going to write that book, and that’s exactly so I’ve changed that. That habit of just finding where does it go? Tracking it and then were could you, how could you reallocate what you have? So some people may may have a different layout. You’re may be between 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM. Maybe you’re blocking. You may be on fire at that time. I’m not. I’m ashes gone, dead at that time. But you can do a lot if you just know where the time is and then allocate it and make it a discipline. How am I going to utilize it?

Yeah. John says you can’t manage time, right? You can’t manage it. To your point, everybody in the world has 24 hours, which you can do is exactly what you just laid out for us. How do I manage myself with the time that I have? And so I think that’s a great three point plan. What are the three most important things I need to do tomorrow? Think about that tonight. Do them early because by about 11:00 AM, my day is out of control. Somebody’s always asking me to do something and then a priorities, boundaries, and then where were the allocate the time. So great discussion. Let’s wrap it up and maybe you could take our listeners home with a couple of ideas. Maybe something they could try today.

Yeah, absolutely. I think the first thing we need to do as leaders is have a little bit of a paradigm shift. I talked a little bit today about the power of asking questions and I think as leaders we need to question everything and we need to understand that we need to question everything that we’re doing, that our team is doing and help them kind of reorganize that. And, so when I say a paradigm shift, a lot of leaders don’t go down that road to take time to think literally and then question kind of where they’re at and what is it, right that only I can do? And so when I think about, I wanted to give you two action steps, call to action today. It’s what we talked about. The first one is I want you to have your team bring you that list. If you’re listening to this right now, do you have a team of people that works for you? I challenge you, it would only take for you every Monday, 4:00, 30 minutes. And so maybe you begin to put that practice in place, but have them create a list and make sure that you guys are in alignment with what they think is productive and you think is productive so that the team is moving together in one direction on that ship.

And then for yourself, it goes back to what I just said. What are the two or three things that only you need to be doing? Take some time and think through that. We have to, to your point, we have to manage and protect our calendar. I know that one of the things I challenged my team with at times is to schedule think time on the business, don’t be in it. And I do that as well, but my tend to move and shift and before you know it, I’m adjusting them, but you have to protect your calendar. And just remember when we say yes to something, we’re saying no to something else and it is a huge lesson as a leader, especially if you’re saying no to something that is a priority or a production area of the organization, of the department,  then we have a gap we got on this line.

What I love about that is that most of the things that I battle with doing or not doing or not bad things. They’re all good things. But by saying, if I say yes to that good thing, my neighbor said, can you help me move furniture on Saturday morning? Yes. I want to help. I want to be a good neighbor, a good friend, and I’m strong. My wife says we were taking your son to breakfast on Saturday morning. Well, I’ll push them off to lunch. And she said, isn’t that the way it always goes? Yeah. Ouch. That hurt. Well, if I say yes to moving furniture, which is a nice thing. Good thing. I’ve said no to something else. What is it? Just call it out. And I said, no, I need to take the breakfast. Could you move the furniture in the afternoon? Sure. Now I can work around that. But by me just randomly saying yes, I’ve just validated, I mean going against one of my biggest priority and the priority is my son. Now, he didn’t think so.

That’s right. Hey. So you know, when you’re done listening to this lesson in the podcast. I challenge you to send an email out to your team. It says, busy doing what? And then have them bring this list. And then the other thing I was thinking about was when you were given that illustration, because there is a gap there between maybe what you felt like was important and how you could manage it versus what your son thought was important is that before you have that meeting with your team, think through the second challenge I gave you – call to action for yourself, which is what are the two or three things that only you can be doing for the organization and share that with them right after they’re done sharing your list and then ask them, does does this make sense? Do you see this? Am I missing something that I should be doing for the organization that only I can do and have that conversation and I think it’ll be valuable for you and your team.

Fantastic. Well, great stuff. There’s so much more on managing time and priorities. We could go. Well, let’s stop there. Thank you for the great ideas. Just a reminder to our listeners, if you want to learn more about the Five Levels of Leadership or perhaps have a 5 Levels workshop and your organization, just go to the You can leave a question for us there. You can provide feedback for us. We’d love to hear from you, so thank you very much. This is the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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