Tag Archives: Stephen R Covey

The frog, the ninja and you – time and productivity

By Elisabeth Goodman, 23rd January, 2018

Drawing inspired by Brian Tracy’s “Eat that Frog” – illustration by Isabelle Spain

I would not endorse eating this frog, but it’s a powerful metaphor adopted by Brian Tracy in “Eat that Frog!” for tackling the most difficult and least attractive tasks first, and for just getting on with it.

The “21 great ways to stop procrastinating and get more done in less time” suggested by the subtitle of his book certainly stand up to scrutiny.

We’ve been referencing Graham Alcott’s “Productivity Ninja” in RiverRhee’s Introduction to Management, and also Time and Meeting Management courses, and have our own illustration for that too.  (See also an earlier blog: There will never be enough time!)

The Productivity Ninja, based on Graham Alcott

Brian Tracy’s list of 21 rules adds a little something extra to Graham Alcott’s list and also to information we’ve gleaned from some of our other sources.

So, in this blog, I’ve picked out a sub-set of Brian Tracy’s list that particularly resonates for me, either because the items are different from or because they reinforce some of the messages we have been using so far.

1. Get clarity on what is expected of you – your unique contribution

I like this as a starting point for planning how we use our time at work.  What is it that we have to offer that perhaps no-one else does?

Having a conversation with our boss about this, or with ourselves if we are self-employed, provides clarity on expectations and also, in essence, our own personal mission or purpose at work.

It lays the foundation for the next topic, and also resonates for me with one of Stephen R. Covey’s “habits” of “begin with the end in mind”.

2. Prioritise your top 3 goals

Whether at work, at home, in the community, or in our own personal fitness / health programmes, Brian Tracy suggests that 10% of what we do creates the 90% of value that we contribute in each of these spheres.

If we focus on that top 10% that will deliver our personal mission we will be more productive.

3. Do this long-term, weekly, daily

I’m not too keen on keeping long lists of tasks.  They’re fine as a starting point but are then more effective if triaged into your diary or calendar.  That’s also what Graham Alcott advocates.

However, you do need to begin with a list, and reviewing / updating what you are planning to do weekly and daily will also help you to keep on top of everything.

And of course this applies to projects as well as individual tasks.  Break the projects into tasks and schedule those too.

4. De-prioritise everything else

We use The Mind Gyms’ “5 Ds”….

The 5 Ds for managing time – adapted from The Mind Gym’s “Give me Time”

…. and they are not dissimilar from Brian Tracy’s ABCDE list.  He uses the word “posteriorise” to emphasise the importance of differentiating between what should be done now, and what should be done later…

(Stephen R. Covey’s “Urgent and Important” matrix is invaluable in this space too)

5. Create gaps in your schedule for getting things done

This is at the heart of every guide to making the most of your time and being at your most productive.  Carving out chunks of time when we will not be disturbed by other people or by other tasks  will enable us to “get into the flow” or “in the zone” and so produce our best work.

We advocate scheduling these chunks of time into your calendar, and protecting them as you would protect attending an important meeting.

6. Don’t make technology your master

Again, we know this.  Turn off e-mail, turn off your phone, turn off any other messaging system.  Access this technology in a way that won’t interrupt your productive work.  Find other ways to manage those “urgent” or “priority” communications.  Figures for how long it typically takes for us to refocus on a task once we’ve been interrupted range around the 20 minute mark..

7. Make technology your slave

We and Graham Allcott are unanimous on this too.  There are lots of tools out there to help us manage our time and tasks – use them!  Brian Tracy also suggests using social media to publicly declare what we are committing to achieve – and thereby reinforce that commitment.

8. Develop your knowledge and skills

This has an echo of Stephen R. Covey’s “sharpen the saw”.  Brian Tracy suggests that we identify what capabilities we need to deliver on our top goals, and make sure we are continuously learning to so as to better support those goals.  This will also better equip us for removing any constraints to achieving our goals.

9. Just start…

The Mind Gym’s “Give me time” has a whole chapter on procrastination. It’s a big topic! Just starting a task, a chunk at a time, will often help to overcome our self-imposed barriers.  Brian Tracy uses analogies of tackling all the tasks involved sequentially: “a salami slice” at a time.  Alternatively, he suggests doing so randomly, simply “a swiss cheese punch” at a time.

He also stresses that working in this way, getting things done, brings its own rewards. We feel good about what we have achieved: our self-esteem, our confidence increase, along with the results.

10. Balance work and life all of the time!

This was a wonderful message to read in a book of this type.  We should not expect to work longer hours, in the evenings, at the week-ends, in order to be successful at work.

Instead your goal, whether by the frog, ninja or your own method, should be to work as efficiently and effectively as possible, so as to free up valuable time for your other priorities outside of work…


About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Banishing the Monday morning blues: Being Exceptional

Holidays are an excellent time to catch-up with my reading, so I have just had a very stimulating week reading Rob Yeung’s “E is for Exceptional”.  I’ve previously enjoyed Yeung’s books on networking, and emotional intelligence, and picked this one up at random, not really knowing what to expect.

It’s a gem!  Like his other books it’s extremely readable – with anecdotal illustrations from the many exceptional people that he has interviewed, backed up by references from the literature, exercises to start developing our own capabilities for being exceptional and summaries at the end of each chapter in case we missed anything.

I would strongly recommend everyone to read this book, but in the meantime, here’s my own interpretive summary.

(By the way, the key capabilities in this book are aimed at individuals, but many would apply to businesses or teams – so I’ll be writing the next issue of my company newsletter based on this too.  Look out for ‘Creating Exceptional Teams’ on http://riverrheeconsulting.wordpress.com)

Banishing the Monday morning blues (authenticity)

I’m always sad when I come across people who feel glum or worse at the start of the working week.  I’ve wondered if I’m naïve to think that people have a choice: that they could take the plunge and go for something different.

Rob Yeung backs me up: he calls this ‘authenticity’ and suggests that we should absolutely be true to ourselves and find work that is inspiring: what we enjoy most and are good at.  It’s what will help us feel fulfilled and, whilst doing it, put us ‘in the flow’ – where time just goes by without us noticing.  If we find and do what is authentic to us, Yeung maintains that the money will follow!

Being ‘authentic’ does not necessarily mean completely changing what we’re doing – it may be possible to craft a current job or role to bring it closer to what we enjoy doing the most.  This relates to other blogs that I’ve written about taking a self-employed attitude when working for an employer.  Fostering this may also lead to greater employee engagement and empowerment.

Having a vision

The idea of writing a business or team vision is well established – that of writing one for ourselves as individuals is less so.  Yeung makes a strong case for both developing and writing down our personal vision.

A vision acts as a framework for our ‘authenticity’.  It helps us create work-life balance so that we give enough time to all the things that are important to us: family, friends, physical health, social activities or anything else, as well as our work. It helps us enjoy the ‘here and now’ and avoid ‘destination fixation’.  And it puts our shorter term goals into a longer term context so that we can make sure we don’t get inappropriately side-tracked.

Up till now my personal vision has been very much in my head – but I’ll be writing it down, referring to it and refreshing it as Yeung suggests.  I’ve written my first draft.


I’m following a different order in describing these capabilities than the one in the book, because I believe that finding our area of ‘authenticity’, and then putting it within the context of a personal vision gives us the focus from which everything else can flow.  Daring is then all about taking action: pursuing opportunities that come our way even if they’re scary, but with the conviction that they’re the right thing to do – as I did in starting my own business!

Being daring is about doing things that we would otherwise regret not having done.  But it’s also about articulating these daring activities as individual goals, with specific measures (so we know when we’ve succeeded), timelines (to avoid procrastination), and a series of steps that we can follow one at a time and so maintain and build our motivation as each step succeeds.

I love Yeung’s suggestion of having a ‘setback manifesto’, so that we can constructively review what’s happened if things go wrong, identify actions to take to reduce the likelihood of reoccurrence, and know how to behave if something similar happens again!

All the ‘C’s

Yeung describes 5 other capabilities of exceptional people, which would seem to ‘feed’ and sustain our authenticity.

Curiosity or ‘awe’ enables us to develop our knowledge, pick up new ideas, be more creative.  In a work situation this is what enables us to ‘work smarter not harder’: solve problems more effectively and innovate.  Yeung encourages us to read widely – not only in our area of expertise, but across disciplines too.  Incidentally he challenges the group approach to brainstorming, saying it is less effective than individual brainstorming and suggesting a new (4-tier) model, which combines the two.  I will definitely be trying this different approach with teams.

Connecting with people to achieve diversity in our contacts, but with an emphasis on ‘netfriending’ rather than ‘networking’ so that we build relationships with the people that we get to know.  Yeung talks about ‘seeking the spark’ with people where connecting comes easily rather than forcing ourselves to try building relationships with everyone we meet.  He also reminds us that making connections with people can come through speaking at and running events or courses, writing, joining committees, going to conferences etc. not just attending pure networking events.  For those working within an organisation, connecting can come from going to lunch with people, joining task forces, or simply stopping by to say hello to colleagues.

Cherishing is about building that rapport with people; having the emotional intelligence to put ourselves in other people’s shoes; really listening to others and giving them space to express themselves.  Yeung also encourages us to look for the ‘3rd way’ in conflict situations in that both people could be right in their views, and the way forward could build on both views, rather than on only one or the other.

Centredness is also a form of emotional intelligence.  In this case it’s about developing our inner calm; cultivating more positive than negative inner thoughts; recognising that ‘thoughts are just thoughts’; and developing a mindfulness or focus on the here and now.  Yeung has some very helpful exercises on how we can help ourselves feel better about both short-term and more serious emotional setbacks.

Citizenship is all about integrity, being a responsible member of our community, and respecting the environment (sustainability).  It’s about focusing on our personal legacy and managing our reputation.  Without it, all the other efforts we might make at being exceptional could be wiped out!

Closing thoughts

“E is for Exceptional” has been an inspirational book.  There are lots of ideas that I have taken away for developing my own capabilities, and I’m looking forward to exploring how these ideas can be applied to ‘Creating Exceptional Teams’ in my RiverRhee Consulting newsletter.  Hopefully some of you will also pick up Rob Yeung’s book, and/or follow my newsletter.

I do hope that anyone suffering from Monday morning blues will discover a way to banish them forever, and will be daring enough to follow it through!

[Footnote.  It’s interesting to compare Rob Yeung’s “E is for Exceptional” with Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and “The 8th Habit – From Effectiveness to Greatness” – there is a strong overlap in the capabilities covered between them and I may re-read Covey’s books in that light on my next holiday!  I would also mention Michael Bungay Stanier’s “Do more great work” as another easy to read, exercise based approach for helping you to find your ‘authenticity’.  I wrote a blog some time ago (Building Strong Personal Careers)  inspired by “The 8th Habit” and “Do More Great Work” which readers might also find interesting.]


Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

“Topgrading”: it’s possible to be talented AND be an effective team player

‘Topgrading’ by Bradford D Smart1, is a wonderful testament to the existence of talented individuals who can also ‘work smarter’, ‘deliver higher quality work’, ‘demonstrate greater team work’, and ‘find ways to get the job done in less time and with less cost’.  Smart argues that it’s the proportion of ‘A’ players in an organisation that will enable it to succeed over other organisations that are also focusing on customers, quality and process improvement.

In a sense, this book contradicts somewhat the conclusions drawn by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones in ‘Clever. Leading your smartest, most creative people.’2 which I’ve written about previously – see http://wp.me/pAUbH-1n.3 They would seem to suggest that talented people find it more difficult than others to be effective team players.  However, Smart’s approach seems to focus very much on managers, whereas Goffee and Jones’ could be said to be more about individuals within teams.

What is ‘Topgrading’ about?

‘Topgrading’ is about several things:

  • Attracting and retaining the most talented people / high performers / top 10% of those available for a position: the ‘A’ players
  • Aiming to fill the organisation with 90% (or better) A players
  • Improving existing resources by coaching people who are B/C players to become A players
  • Redeploying B/C players into internal positions where they might be a better fit to become A players, or if not, helping them to find positions where they can be A players outside the company.

We can / should take responsibility for ‘Topgrading’ ourselves

What is also interesting about Smart’s approach is the idea that we should, individually, take responsibility for finding those positions or roles where we can be A players, instead of being satisfied with playing a B/C role.  Indeed, in the right role, we can all be A players.  In this, he echoes people like Stephen Covey, in his ‘8th Habit’4 who stresses the importance of finding one’s personal voice, and others that I’ve quoted in another previous blog http://wp.me/pAUbH-1h 5– about taking control of one’s working life.

Smart’s quote from Peter Drucker: Managing in Times of Great Change, is very apposite: “The stepladder is gone, and there is not even an implied structure of an industry’s rope ladder.  It’s more like vines, and you bring your own machete.  You don’t know what you’ll be doing next or whether you’ll work in a private office, or one big ampitheater or out of your house.”

Smart has a wonderfully refreshing approach for the manager, VP or CEO who is aiming to be both successful and happy.  It’s not just about career success, but about addressing 7 other critical life dimensions: wellness, family (relationships), pleasure, spiritual grounding, financial independence, giving something back (to the community), being creative – and also being resourceful to achieve balance in all of these.

He suggests that people perform periodical personal career reviews of their competencies relative to the marketplace, and that we cultivate networks of knowledge people as well as reading widely and attending seminars and trade-shows to help us with this.

‘Topgrading’ is especially about the role of the recruiter, manager, HR

This book seems a ‘must read’ for anyone looking to improve the capability of their organisation.  It is filled with guidelines and templates for interviewing, coaching, retaining and generally ensuring that your organisation has the best talent it needs.  There are dramatic case studies of the impact of Topgrading on individual companies’ stock performance.  It describes 50 competencies (!) that any manager should aim to achieve, in the categories of intellectual, personal, interpersonal, management / leadership, motivational.

Smart also challenges the school of thought of only focusing on ones strengths: he argues that a fully competent manager should aim to address his/her weaknesses, rather than relying on others to compensate for them.


1. “Topgrading” by Bradford D Smart, Portfolio, 2005

2. “Clever. Leading your smartest, most creative people.” By Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, Harvard Business Press, 2009

3. Why conventional knowledge management, process improvement and project management won’t work with ‘clever’ teams.  Or will they? http://wp.me/pAUbH-1n

4. “The 8th Habit. From effectiveness to greatness”, by Stephen R. Covey. Simon & Schuster Sound Ideas,1980.

5. Taking control of your working life as an employee; a first 100 days approach? http://wp.me/pAUbH-1h

6. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, using process improvement, knowledge and change management to enhance team effectiveness.

Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting, and about Elisabeth Goodman.

Achieving more value with less

As Stephen R. Covey, Bob Whitman and Breck England point out, in their one-hundred-and-ten page “Predictable results in unpredictable times”1: “in bad times, the distractions are more severe than ever… As people get laid off, the survivors have more to do.  The distractions pile up to the sky as the economy grows rougher…”

In our increasingly lean organisations, we all need to achieve ‘more with less’.  But rather than indiscriminately piling on more work with the stress and burn-out that this will entail, we need to find ways to ‘work smarter not harder’.  We can do so by focusing on what our customers value, and examining how we and our teams can deliver that value more effectively.

Covey et al’s book is a very readable synopsis of modern day thinking on how to tie a strong focus on strategy, keeping score and customer value with process improvement, engagement and empowerment of the people in our teams.  This blog picks out and discusses some of the book’s main points.

Build customer loyalty vs. customer satisfaction

We all know the importance of understanding what would satisfy our customers, but the concept of ‘customer loyalty’ takes this further.  What would it take for our customers to be emotionally connected to us, so that they would miss us if we were gone?  How far do we understand what we would need to do to achieve either customer satisfaction, or customer loyalty?

Covey et al quote a Bain survey of senior executives in 362 companies where:

  • 96% said their companies were customer focused
  • 80% believed their companies delivered a ‘superior customer experience’
  • Only 8% of their customers agreed

From my conversations with people in various organisations, there are many opportunities for companies to gain a much better understanding of what constitutes value for their customers.

Covey et al suggest that companies should look for opportunities to reduce the complexity and diversity of what they offer to their customers, and so do less than their competitors, but do it better.

Develop employee engagement, empowerment and loyalty

It’s a sad paradox that in difficult times, many of the people that get laid off are those who have the knowledge that could help the organisation out of recession.

Covey et al make a number of references to how Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox in 2001, managed to turn the organisation around.  One of the key ways she did this was by making fewer people redundant than others might have done, and by appealing directly to people throughout the organisation for ideas.  It may seem obvious but, as the authors point out, “only knowledgeable people can create the solutions you need to succeed in a crisis.”

These 2 other extracts from the book are also I think particularly pertinent:

“Even in tough times (perhaps especially in tough times) people want to contribute, they want to help, they want to make a difference.”


“When a company aligns the customer experience with the employee experience, they create employees who are passionate about what the company stands for.”

These thoughts remind me of the points Stephen R Covey makes here and in his book “The 8th Habit”2, which I’ve written about elsewhere3 about how much more effective we can be in our work if we find our ‘voice’, and also in my commentary4 on Goffee and Jones’ book “Clever”5 about the need to clearly and regularly communicate the organisation’s vision and goals to your  ‘knowledge workers’.

Push the ‘reset’ button to align around goals and continuously improve your work

Covey et al close the loop on ‘doing more with less’ by having organisations realign what they do around the priorities set by customer value and employees ideas to address them.

The priorities are in effect the organisation’s one, two or three ‘wildly important goals’.  Effective team leaders will ensure that everyone understands what they need to do in relation to these, and also that there are good measures in place to monitor performance against these measures.

Covey et al differentiate between ‘lag’ measures and ‘lead’ measures. Lag measures are typically the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or output measures that organisations use to demonstrate to what extent they have achieved their goals.

Lead measures are more effective indicators of anticipated performance because they are based on ‘in-process’ performance.  Teams should be able to regularly review how they are doing against these lead measures, and share knowledge and lessons learnt to continuously improve their performance and so achieve the final goals more effectively.

Closing thoughts

Large sections of Covey et al’s book are devoted to the importance of execution and trust.  To me these are enablers of the 3 main themes I’ve pulled out above.

Effective execution relies on focusing on a few key goals, making sure everyone knows what they are, keeping score, and ensuring that the team reviews and improves performance.

Trust is the trust between leaders and their teams in ensuring that there is transparency around the goals and where the organisation is in relation to them, keeping commitments (on the leaders’ part), and extending trust to the team.

But trust is also about having trustworthy systems and processes such that, as for the Formula One pit crew: each knows their job: “Silently they do it, and they get out of the way.”  Great Ormond Street Hospital, London studied the Formula One team’s approach to improve the serious issues they were facing and, as a result of this, “introduced a system that defines carefully who does what, and in what order.  Every action is focused and productive; everyone has a contribution to make.”

In all of this thinking, there are strong analogies with Stephen Spear’s 4 main steps in “Chasing the Rabbit”6, which I also describe in one of my blogs7: design (or define customer value, processes and roles to achieve them), improve and share knowledge (involving everyone in these), build capabilities (through the interaction between leaders and their teams).

I’ll close with this quote in the book, which I particularly like:

“Focus on your customers and lead your people as though their lives depended on your success” Warren Buffett


1. “Predictable results in unpredictable times”, by Stephen R. Covey, Bob Whitman and Breck England. FranklinCovey Publishing, 2009.

2. “The 8th Habit. From effectiveness to greatness”, by Stephen R. Covey. Simon & Schuster Sound Ideas,1980.

3. Empowerment and self-employment; (A consultant’s) life is like a game of rummy; Aptitude, Attitude, Plenitude and Servitude.; Social networking tools, empowerment and knowledge management; Project leaders empower, project managers organise; Powerful quotes for strong performing teams… – see https://elisabethgoodman.wordpress.com”

4. Why conventional knowledge management, process improvement and project management won’t work with ‘clever’ teams.  Or will they? http://wp.me/pAUbH-1n

5. “Clever. Leading your smartest, most creative people.” By Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, Harvard Business Press, 2009

6. “Chasing the Rabbit. How market leaders outdistance the competition and how great companies can catch up and win”, by Steven Spear. McGraw Hill 2009.

7. High performing organisations – interweaving process improvement, knowledge management and change management http://wp.me/pAUbH-1V

8. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, using process improvement, knowledge and change management to enhance team effectiveness.

Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting, and about Elisabeth Goodman.