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Tag Archives: staying focused

Productivity tools for leaders

Brand-new video series for 2020

I’m so excited to kick-off another brand-new video series for 2020.  For the last few years, I’ve focused on a different subject each year.  Last year the topic was “How to develop and grow your people” – we did 25 videos.  And in 2018, we put out 33 specific tips on how to motivate your employees.  So this year, I’m going to focus on … drum roll please … Productivity tools for leaders.

In my leadership training and mentoring practice, a frequent refrain I hear from my clients is that they start their days with the best of intentions only to get to the end feeling like they’ve gotten nothing substantial accomplished.  So you tell me.  Have you ever felt that a full day has gone by, yet time seems to have escaped you?  Or that instead of checking things off your to-do list, it seems to be longer than it was at the beginning of the day?  If so, then I think that this year’s video series is tailor-made for you. Continue reading

Boost productivity at the office by using music

jenniferbuchanan2Jennifer Buchanan is not only my professional colleague and friend, but also the only music therapist I know!  If you’re wondering what a “music therapist” is, then I’m so glad you asked!!  Music therapists use music to curb stress, boost morale, and restore health, and Jennifer is a recognized leading expert on bridging the gap between academic research in the area of music medicine and the public, speaking internationally to a wide variety of education, healthcare, government, and corporate audiences.  Because this is an area that not many people are knowledgeable about yet, I was delighted when Jennifer agreed to guest on the blog.  I asked her to share some insights that would be useful to leaders everywhere, and I was thrilled when she decided to write about how to use music to boost productivity.

5 Steps to Boosting Productivity at the Office using Music

Do you feel you need a boost at work? Music may be the solution.  The music industry has proof that you should listen to music while you work. In a survey commissioned by the UK licensing organizations PPL and PRS for Music, 77 percent of surveyed businesses say playing music in the workplace increases staff morale and improves the atmosphere.  The results were greater productivity.

So how do we make music at work?

There is no easy solution to developing a productive playlist for two or more people. Like all good work procedures and strategies, it takes time and it starts with being proactive instead of re-active. Take the time to identify the diverse needs and cultures of the group you belong to. Here are five suggested guidelines or steps for helping your organization use and select music at work: Continue reading

Leaders, how do you minimize distractions?

CyclingThe topic of how to minimize distractions to maximize productivity came up again this past weekend.  My husband, an avid cyclist, rides his bicycle to work daily (at least while the weather is still cooperating).  Recently, he moved offices, and so his daily cycling route has changed.  Even though almost his entire journey is on bicycle trails, the path itself is quite serpentine, twisting and winding its way through tree groves and up and down many small hills.  In a passing comment to me this last weekend, he said “I find that I can’t really enjoy the view on my bike rides anymore because I need to concentrate and pay attention to the path.  A couple of times I’ve been distracted by birds or squirrels in my peripheral vision, and I found myself almost veering off the trail and into the brush.  This is not a straightforward pathway, so I have to really stay focused on what is ahead of me, otherwise I run the risk of getting into trouble.”

His comment about getting distracted by birds and squirrels got me thinking about how often we lose focus at work by the well-known (and notorious) “squirrel”. Continue reading

“Being present” (or not) sends a powerful message to those around you

Young businessman sitting on sofa at office listening to talkingAre you “present” in your conversations with others?  I asked this question back in December 2009 after an unpleasant experience with a professional colleague.  If the mail I get on this subject is any indication, this apparently continues to be an issue of epic proportions.  Evidently, being present is not something that managers and supervisors do well!  So what exactly is “being present”?  If you repeatedly glance down at your watch while a co-worker is talking to you, you’re guilty of not being present.  If you supposedly “listen” to what a staff member is saying while pecking away at your keyboard, phone or instant message, then you’re at fault for not being present.  If you are the supervisor or manager who gets easily distracted away from the person in front of you by other pressing issues or people around you, then you are probably one of the people that I hear repeatedly about.

You might ask “So what?”  Why should I care that people complain about this behaviour to you Merge?  The answer is because your actions are a huge indicator of the respect you give (or don’t give) to your staff and co-workers.  When you can’t be bothered to be fully present in your conversations and interactions, you devalue and demoralize people, essentially telling them that they are not important.  Continue reading

Don’t multitask, be present when it comes to employee interactions

Back in March 2013, I wrote a blog post titled Focus on the present in order to achieve big things in the future. In it I talked about how not to let current short-term challenges get in the way of future long-term goals. Today’s blog post takes a slightly different tack on the word “present” – specifically that it’s important to BE PRESENT in order to maximize productivity and team performance. Let me explain.

Female architect using tablet computer, looking awayYou’ve done it (we all have) – glanced at your email while talking to one of your employees. Or shuffled through papers on your desk while simultaneously carrying on a conversation with one of your staff. Stop. Not only is it not working, but you’re also doing more damage than good. You may think that you’re being productive by doing two things at the same time, but the truth is that you’re doing neither well. Not only that, and perhaps more importantly, you’re jeopardizing your relationship with your staff. You may not intend to do so, but your inattentiveness is disrespectful to the very people who ensure your department’s success. Instead, choose to be present. Continue reading

Minimize distractions and maximize productivity

Some of you may recall that last month I became the newest member of’s panel of business experts. is the online version of Profit Magazine, a sister publication to Canadian business magazine giants Canadian Business, MoneySense and Macleans. My inaugural column was titled How to become a persuasive triple-threat and it explored what it takes to get more people to buy your ideas.

Well, column number two just hit cyberspace this morning! How to stay focused by managing workflow interruptions offers up three strategies to minimize distractions, maximize productivity, and get more done.

ProfitGuide061815 Continue reading

Having trouble staying focused? You may be the problem!

Computer Keyboard With Word InterruptIn the past, I’ve blogged about the challenge of staying focused citing research from Gloria Mark, an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine and an expert on work interruptions (see A leadership lesson on staying focused (from cats)).  Recently, I was doing some research for a new program and came across an interesting interview with Gloria Mark in which she made another specific comment that caught my eye.  Her studies have shown that people interrupt themselves almost as much as they are interrupted by external sources – people interrupt themselves about 44% of the time; the rest of the interruptions come from external sources.

Wow!  Think about this for a moment – on average, 44% of interruptions are self-induced.  Continue reading

A leadership lesson on staying focused (from cats)

SpiritSerenaAs frequent readers of my blog and Mega Minutes know, my husband and I live in a house that is managed by two adorable furry felines.  And as all good leaders, they often demonstrate valuable lessons in leadership that I can’t resist sharing with all of you 🙂 .

Consider this example about staying focused and managing distractions – when we call the cats, they rarely come.  Instead, as my husband says, they “take a message and get back to us later”.  You see, our cats have their own agenda and they’re not hurried by external forces (such as us) insisting that they interrupt their day to fit our schedules.  So they get back to us … eventually … but at a time that better fits their needs.

Now I write this a little tongue-in-cheek, but it is nevertheless a leadership trait worth bearing in mind.  Continue reading

Sometimes it is better to enjoy the moment (rather than trying to understand why)

Photo credit: Joshua Pickles
Photo credit: Joshua Pickles

Last November I was in Manama, Bahrain and since it was my first visit to the country, I made it a point to save a couple of days to “play tourist”. One of the many remarkable places I visited was Shajarat-al-Haya or the Tree of Life, a solitary 32-foot tall Asian mesquite tree that survives, seemingly without water, in the middle of the desert. Despite extreme temperatures and the apparent lack of fresh water and nutrients, it has continued to grow and flourish, so legend has it that Enki, an ancient god of water in Babylonian and Sumerian mythology, protects the tree. And yet others believe the site is the historical location of the Garden of Eden. Science has a more logical explanation. Scientists believe that the tree’s root system has searched deep, over 150 feet in fact, and has managed to locate an aquifer that sustains its survival. However the scientists cannot prove this theory, Continue reading

Watch your step and stay focused

E nihi ka hele … mai pulale i ka ‘ike a ka maka

— Hawaiian proverb


Watch your step … and don’t let things you see lead you into trouble.

I first saw this truism on a sign at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, put there to caution visitors against wandering off the marked trails.  Certainly, in an active geological site where seemingly solid rock formations can unexpectedly turn into fragile sulphur banks and then crumble into steam vents in just a few short moments, this is very sage advice.  But this wise counsel is just as applicable in the workplace and to your role as a leader.

As a leader, you are faced with a myriad of responsibilities – day-to-day issues, fire-fighting crises, stacks of phone messages, and of course a never-ending stream of email – and while each is very important, they likely also pull you away from a long-term focus.  Yet it is the long-term initiatives that will actually take your organization (or your department) onward and upward to the next level of success.  So how do you focus that critical mental energy and time towards such issues?  By doing exactly what this Hawai’ian proverb suggests.  First, create a plan, preferably in writing.  Second, watch your step.  Move forward decisively and deliberately, but tread carefully nevertheless; there will be unexpected obstacles and setbacks and you have to be observant and prepared to counter them.  Third, stay focused.  Expect that there will be distractions along the way – unanticipated stakeholders, unforeseen options and the dreaded scope creep – but concentrate on your ultimate goal and stay the course.