Why I Added a Habit Tracker to My Productivity System

The Productive habit tracker is an app that reminds you of things you’d like to do on a regular basis. I look at it a few times each day to see if there is anything I forgot to do. Its interface makes it fun and easy. Previously, I tried putting these types of activities in other components of my productivity system, such as my daily todo list, but that had several disadvantages.

There are certain activities or disciplines I want to do on a daily or weekly basis — for the sake of my physical, mental, and family wellbeing, as well as my personal effectiveness and growth. For example, as I have gotten older, I’ve learned that I need to do daily calf stretches, or else within a couple weeks I will develop ankle pain or even plantar fasciitis.

There are four challenges that get in the way of doing these activities or disciplines:

Engaging Leader™

151: Work Smarter, Not Harder – Productivity Hacks to Get More & Better Work Done in Less Time | with David Burkus

David Burkus is the organizer of the upcoming Work Smarter Summit, an online video-based virtual conference where world-class experts share their proven tactics for getting more done, earning more money, and living a life of purpose and productivity.


3 Apps for Quick NY Resolutions — It’s Not Too Late to Start

Starting a new year is a great time to start healthy new habits, quit unhealthy ones, or just try something new that may improve your life’s satisfaction or effectiveness.

But it’s already more than a week into the new year. Many of us have already tried and failed on our resolutions. For many others, the holidays came and went, and life is happening so fast that we didn’t get a chance to reflect and consider what next steps could help us achieve the life we truly want.

Fortunately, there’s an app for that … somewhere. In an app store near you, there’s an app that’s a near-perfect fit for you to make that next step easier and quicker to jump start, make it more fun, and help you stick with it.

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144: Best Communication Tools for Teamwork

Image of three business people working at meeting

On Engaging Leader, we share a lot of principles about leadership communication, but what about collaboration communication? In other words, what’s the most effective and efficient way to talk to the colleagues and clients you work with most closely in order to do great work together?


Plan Effective Leadership Communication with the Target Outcome Scope [video]

The target outcome is something that will change as the result of your words and/or actions. It’s the end result you hope to achieve.

To get laser-focused, I use a tool I call the Target Outcome Scope. It’s like a scope on a rifle or crossbow, to help make sure my communication is aimed at the right target.

You start with the center of the target by asking the question, “What do I want people to DO or SAY differently as a result of this interaction with me?” That’s your target outcome.

It’s not as effective to try to get them to know something; you need to think about what you want them to DO or SAY. Create a clear understanding in your mind of the one target outcome you desire.

Then identify 1-3 objectives that will produce the outcome you want – for example, “catch their attention, make them laugh, and pique their interest for more information.” Picture those as three arrows defining the “how” that will hit your target outcome.

Here are two hints for defining effective objectives…

  • Think about the challenges or objections you will need to overcome with your audience to accomplish your target outcome.
  • State your objectives as action verbs. It needs to describe the impact you want to have on another person.

Example: How to Use the Target Outcome Scope

I’m a volunteer for a local non-profit that serves mothers and fathers in need. My role is providing classes and coaching about effective parenting.

A while ago, I started a series of coaching sessions with a father. Going into the first session, I knew that Ed (not his real name) was a janitor by occupation, and that he requested our help because he felt he had failed to be a good father to his older children from a previous marriage. Now that he had remarried and had a six-month old son, he wanted mentoring so he could be a better dad this time around.

Based on that limited information, when I prepared for that first session, I couldn’t identify anything specifically related to parenting that I thought Ed should say or do as a result of our first meeting. So I scoped a target outcome that I thought would be a building block for future outcomes: I wanted Ed to say that he enjoyed our time together and believes he can learn valuable insights from me.

Then I thought about the challenges I would face in achieving the target outcome. I was concerned that Ed could be apprehensive about me; he might perceive me as an authority on parenting, or a “perfect parent” who would be judgmental of his past failures. Also, I knew he was a blue-collar manual laborer; he could view a white-collar professional like me as out-of-touch with his issues. And as every counselor or coach knows, a common challenge is that clients may forget whatever lessons you may try to teach during any given session.

To overcome those challenges and achieve the target outcome, I identified three objectives for the first session:

  • Make a friend (build rapport with Ed).
  • Listen to identify one take-away lesson that Ed agrees is helpful.
  • Reinforce the take-away with a story that Ed will remember.

Did I achieve the target outcome for that first session? Yes, and here is how I know: During our second session, without any prompting, Ed commented on how helpful it was to talk with me about being a good dad, and he related that he had shared my story with his wife.


  • The Target Outcome should answer the question, “What do I want people to DO or SAY differently as a result of this interaction with me?”
    • To identify objectives, it’s helpful to think about the challenges or objections you will need to overcome with your audience to accomplish your Target Outcome.
    • State your objectives as action verbs that describe the impact I seek to have on another person. Then identify 1-3 objectives that will produce the outcome you want. They define the “how” that will hit your target outcome.

More Resources


7 Tricks for Taming the Email Monster

Communication is key to being an effective leader. And generally speaking, frequent and fast communication is better. However, many leaders over-do it when it comes to responding to email they receive.

7 Tricks for Taming the Email Monster | Engaging Leader | Depositphotos_13602439


By spending most days distracted by their computer or mobile device, many leaders miss out on:

  • Clear, strategic thinking
  • Uninterrupted work focused on pre-defined priorities
  • Real conversations that demonstrate executive presence.

e-Paradise Lost

Back in the day, the volume of email I received was small enough that it was actually fun to receive email. I wanted to see the notification immediately. I acted on the email right away, and then I filed it into a system of folders. Sometimes, I amazed people with my ability to find an old email containing needed information.

Times have changed. It’s not uncommon for me to receive scores of daily email requiring action – this is not counting spam, e-newsletters, and CCs. Such a high volume makes it impossible to act on every email as soon as it arrives, without distracting me from productive work and meetings. On the positive side, email search functionality has improved well enough that it’s no longer necessary to spend time sorting old emails into file folders — even if I archive all old emails into a single folder, I’m 99% confident that I’ll find any email when I need it.

Four Basic Email Tricks

Over the years, I’ve adopted several practices to maximize productivity despite the increasing volume of email. Here are four foundational practices I recommend, regardless of the email program you use.

  • Turn off notifications on your desktop computer and mobile devices. An incoming email is not more important than the person you are currently talking to or the task you had proactively chosen to work on. Every time you take your focus off your current conversation or task to look at an incoming email, you subtract from your leadership presence and deep thinking.
  • Invest time setting up email filters. I use several filters so that only key email hits my inbox. Here are my two most important filters:
    • CC Mail: If my name doesn’t appear in the “To” field of an email, it goes into a “CC Mail” folder. These CC (and BCC) emails rarely require me to take action, and it saves a huge amount of distraction to keep them out of my inbox. I simply scan the folder several times each week to help me stay in the loop. The following image shows how I created this filter in Google Apps (Gmail).
      My CC Mail filter using Google Apps
    • Bulk Mail: As you know, spam is unsolicited email, and your email program should be helping you filter out that email automatically. Bulk email (also called “Bacn”) refers to e-newsletters, social media digests, monthly billing statements, and other email that you want to receive but has zero urgency. It’s a pain to set up a filter that includes all these senders (and add new ones as you sign up for them), but over time it adds up to a lot of time saved; also, email programs are beginning to provide smart filters that help automate this. These emails skip my inbox and go into a separate folder that I review a few times each month.
  • Determine how often and what time you really need to process your email. Given my role, I perform best if I limit this to once or twice per day … mid-morning, plus (if that day’s schedule allows) a late-afternoon session. My main goal is to spend one hour or less per day on email, for the sake of productivity; my secondary goal is to respond to emails within 24 hours after receipt, for the sake of service. Depending on your role, you may need to be more or less responsive; however, it’s hard to imagine anyone truly needing to process their email more than four times per day.
  • Stop using email as your to-do list. Because emails often contain assignments for us, it’s extremely tempting to use an email as a visual reminder of an action you need to take. But that’s a recipe for lost focus. If you can’t resolve an email within a few minutes, add it to a real to-do list and archive the email. (BONUS #1: Task-management apps like ToodleDo let you add a task by simply forwarding the email. BONUS #2: Project-management apps like Basecamp helps you keep conversations and tasks organized around the project, rather than stuck in your email.)

Three Advanced Tricks

Over the past year, I have found three plugins to be a godsend:

  • Boomerang (available for Gmail and Outlook): If there is an email I don’t need to deal with until a future time, Boomerang hides it and returns it to my inbox at the appropriate date or hour. Perhaps more importantly, when I send an email that I may need to follow up on later, Boomerang will put a copy of my email in my inbox at the set date/time. As a result, my follow-ups are much easier (no need to make it a task on a to-do list), and I can follow-up consistently and without fail.
    Example of using Boomerang
  • Inbox Pause (currently available only for Gmail): OK, so I’ve decided to check my email only at certain times of the day. In the meantime, however, if I go into email to look up  information for a project, I can’t help but notice some “urgent” email that has just arrived. Unlike Gmail, some apps have an offline option; but often those won’t  let you send emails while in offline mode (which I often need to do).With Inbox Pause, emails don’t appear in my inbox until I decide to see them. When I’m ready to process my email, I turn Pause off so that I can see all the emails sent to me since the last time, and then I turn Pause back on so I can process the emails without being distracted by new emails coming in.
    How my inbox looks with Inbox Pause turned on
  • The Email Game (currently available only for Gmail): Gamification comes to email! This new plugin uses feedback, urgency, and a bit of fun to help me achieve my goal of keeping my email-processing times to one or less per day. The Email Game keeps a timer on my screen to encourage me to process each email within a matter of minutes – and it provides immediate feedback each time I reply or archive an email.
    The Email Game

Note: All three plugins are from the company Baydin, which is either a coincidence or a sign that no one else is focusing on Gmail productivity. I’m not affiliated with nor compensated by Badin.

To be clear, I’m not saying that I hate email. It’s an efficient way to communicate (though email’s lack of nonverbal communication can also result in misunderstandings). But many of us receive so much email, that it can take away from our day-to-day productivity and leadership. These seven tips can help you manage email efficiently and effectively.

Jesse Lahey, SPHR, is the host of the Engaging Leader podcast, host of the Game Changer podcast series, and managing principal of Aspendale Communications. Connect with him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn.


8 Communication Tools for Leaders

New E-Book Helps You Become a Better Leader in Every Area of Life!

Get "8 Communication Tools for Leaders"In the 21st century, leadership relies more on communication than ever before. Today, a leader is communicating nearly constantly, whether or not you know it. But are you truly taking advantage of my opportunities to engage the people you care about?

Here is some bad news:

  • Most leaders think they communicate and engage people better than they actually do.
  • Most employees, customers, and other people you think you’re leading are not actually engaged.

However, there’s also some great news:

  • You don’t need a Harvard MBA to be an extraordinary leader.
  • Perhaps as much as 80% of an effective leader’s role comes down to communication – a competency that everyone can learn and improve upon.
  • Putting 8 Communication Tools for Leaders into practice will make you a better leader in every area of life – whether you lead a large organization, a small team, a far-flung tribe, and/or a family.

Get "8 Communication Tools for Leaders"
Every time you interact with others, you are communicating and leading. Do you have the level of influence you need to be fully effective? Are you making the impact that you truly want?

Here’s what you’ll learn from the 60+ pages of 8 Communication Tools for Leaders:

  • Eight of the communication tools that a leader is most likely to need in multiple areas of life.
  • Why each of the eight tools will help you be a better leader, when to use it, and how to use it to make a difference that matters.
  • The secret reason why people are resisting your influence.
  • Two planning templates: One to make sure your communication is aimed at the right target, plus one to plan messages to actually hit that target.
  • Six reasons why a former “soft skill” is now accepted as a powerful leadership tool.
  • How to communicate vision, purpose, and values in a way that causes people to pay attention and remember.
  • The two Power Pronouns that influence people to 1) help you deal with a problem and 2) own the team’s purpose, vision, and successful outcomes.
  • The one (seemingly) simple action you can take that will set you apart as an engaging leader.
  • An ancient method for cultivating your team to identify the best solutions — and be accountable as a group for the success of those solutions.
  • Four models for effective communication, with examples and stories that demonstrate how to apply the models and make them even easier to remember.

The people you care about need your cultivating influence to be all they could be. Your kids need you to believe in them, teach them self-discipline, and help them discover their passion. Your employees need you to energize and equip them to discover how their work can change the world for the better. Your customers, friends, and followers need you to listen and inspire them to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.

When you put 8 Communication Tools for Leaders into practice, you will become more intentional in your communications, whether you are talking, writing, or being silent. You will become a better leader in every area of life!

To get started, click on the link below and fill in the form. Once you do that and confirm your subscription, I will email you the download link to this vital FREE resource.
Get "8 Communication Tools for Leaders"
After you’ve had a chance to check out the e-book, I’d love it if you let me know what you think. If you have suggestions, comments, or questions about the book, please provide them in the comments section below. Your feedback will help improve the next edition!


Do You Know Your Target Audience? How to Do Stakeholder Analysis [video]

An effective communication strategy includes all 5M components: Mission/Measurement, Members, Messages, Media, and Manager/Champion Support. (We will be providing an overview of all 5M components in episode 003 of the Engaging Leader Podcast yet this week.)

Stakeholder Analysis is very helpful with the second “M.” It is a simple exercise that you can complete as an individual or group to identify which audience members have a stake in your communication/leadership issue. If you don’t identify all the stakeholders, you could miss important groups of people who could impact (positively or negatively) whether you achieve your objectives.

Once you identify the stakeholders, you may want to choose some of the key stakeholders to perform another simple exercise, the .

” href=””>Empathy Map.


Do You Understand Your Target Audience? How to Use an Empathy Map [video]

One of the great leadership teachers of our time passed away on July 16, 2012. Dr. Stephen Covey was the author of several books, most notably the highly influential book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He wrote it way back in 1989, and yet it is still front and center in many bookstores today. In 2011, Time magazine named it one of the 25 Most Influential Business Management books of all time.

From Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit #5 is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

Here is how I apply this to leadership communication: Get to know your audience … the various types of stakeholders you are hoping to influence. Spend time listening to their perspective, or at the very least, mentally imagining yourself in their place.

A great first step to understanding your audience is the Empathy Map, which is a fun exercise that takes only 15-20 minutes. In this video, I show an example of how to use the Empathy Map.

Other resources you may want to check out are:

For the transcript of this video: How to Use an Empathy Map (video transcript)