Crucial Skills®

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Getting Things Done

How to Help Your Boss Be More Productive

Dear Justin,

I have teammates (and even my manager, at times) who are inefficient and often unproductive. This is causing issues for me because I end up picking up the slack. I’m not perfect, but I’d like them to more effectively manage their workload. How can I handle this?

Tired of Picking Up the Slack

Dear Tired,

Work on yourself first. Most of us think we are more effective and productive than we really are. Truth is, we could all benefit from working on ourselves first. So, to influence your teammate’s productivity habits, be the best YOU can be. Great productivity skills can be osmotic. Even if you are the only person practicing them, they will affect every intersection with others. For example, when you track commitments you make, when you capture incoming requests, when you hold others accountable to their commitments, because you hold yourself accountable—your team will notice, and work will improve.

Keep an airtight agenda list. Never let your own mismanagement encumber a one-on-one meeting with a boss or colleague. Keep an “agenda” list for anyone you meet with often. For example, you might have a list called “@Rajiv” because Rajiv is your boss, and this is a list of things you want to talk with him about when you next meet. This ensures you have at least some of the agenda taken care of with your list, and you can discuss matters that concern you both.

Push back on agenda-less meetings. If you’re invited to a meeting with no plan, no agenda, no details—respectfully push back. Put some responsibility on the meeting organizer to give you more detail. You don’t have to decline right away or even tentatively accept, just respond to the invite with a quick question: “Thanks for sending this to me. Can you send me the outline or agenda for the meeting? I want to be sure I understand the expectations, as well as my role.”

Finally, have the crucial conversation. There are really two parts to this: (1) Make your teammates aware of your concern, and (2) get dialogue going so you can work together to improve the situation. Let’s say you want to address this concern head-on with your manager. In your next one-on-one meeting, you might approach the conversation using this model:

  • Explain your good intent. Explain why you care about the productivity practices and share your intent for having the conversation. Get your heart in the right place and think about what you want for them, your relationship, yourself. Share that.
  • Share the facts. Then share the facts of what you’ve seen happening. Stick with only what you have observed, not your interpretation of what you’ve observed. For example, there’s a big difference between “You didn’t have the report ready by the deadline” versus “You obviously don’t care about your job.”
  • Clarify your story. Then share why the facts matter to you. Is there a concern you have? Is there an impact to you or the team that you want your manager to be aware of? Share some of the natural consequences, of these productivity habits, that have you concerned.
  • Ask for their view. Now ask how they see it, seek their input. They might see the situation differently. If you don’t ask with sincerity, it will come off like a lecture and you might kill the safety in the room. So, genuinely seek their viewpoint after sharing yours—without accusations—and you’re likely to get an open dialogue going.

Take one thing I’ve shared and give it a shot. And by the way, I share these tips daily in a short video series called “One Productive Minute.” These might be great to share with your team to help them on these habits.

Good Luck,

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2 thoughts on “How to Help Your Boss Be More Productive”

  1. Jeff Grigg

    This is all good. I think it also may be helpful to ask and investigate, …

    “What are our shared goals?”


    What do we want to accomplish, as a company? …, as a team? …, as individuals?

    It could be that those around you are quite happy with their current “productivity,” given what they want and expect to accomplish.

    Sometimes what we need is inspiration, more than motivation, or criticism. Sometimes, sharing a vision of “We could accomplish great things!” is more motivating than “You’re falling so far short of my personal expectations for you.”

    1. Justin

      thanks Jeff. Great comment!

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