My Toolbox: Productivity

My Toolbox: Productivity

I can remember as a little boy being fascinated with my Dad’s tools. He’s talented when it comes to woodworking so I had the opportunity to watch him firsthand use those tools to build some really cool stuff, like a marble roller. (It’s much cooler than it sounds and that woodworking masterpiece provided hours and even years of entertainment.) 

My parents even bought me a kid’s tool belt with a plastic hammer and screwdriver that I could wear as I “assisted” my dad on those projects. You may have had one like it.

Tools are important to any project, whether that be woodworking or leadership. If you don’t have the right tool or don’t know how to utilize the tool correctly, your leadership will suffer and will not be as effective as you would like it to be.

I’ve seen too many well-meaning leaders who have the vision and passion for leadership, but don’t take the time to assemble and learn the tools they need to maximize their leadership potential. Most of the time these tools are not sexy, but they are vital to a leader’s success.

So over the next two weeks, I’m going to open up my personal “toolbox” and show you some of the practical tools, programs, and apps I use on a regular basis that help me be an effective leader, small business owner, husband, and friend. 

Today, I’m focusing on productivity.


Productivity 101

I’m a self-proclaimed productivity nerd. My goal is to be efficient with tasks so I can be effective with people. I wouldn’t be able to be efficient if I didn’t have productivity tools to help me remember tasks, minimize the time I spend on email, and serve as a catalyst for getting things done. 

Maybe you’re new to this topic. Maybe not. But before I dive into these tools, let me give you a crash course on productivity. Productivity 101, if you will.

The most influential resource for my productivity is David Allen’s book Getting Things Done. Here are some of the basics:

There are three basic avenues for effective productivity:

    1. Inbox: Any avenue that collects information (email, physical mailbox, text messages, etc.)
    2. Project/Task Management: The place where you actually get the work done (checklist on a piece of paper or something more complex like a digital task management system)
    3. Filing System (Reference): The place where you store information to retrieve later (physical filing cabinet, notes app on your phone, etc.

These three avenues or systems need to communicate efficiently, and ideally you want to be able to move information and projects seamlessly through each one.

The reason you need three distinct systems is because each one has different strengths. Your email inbox is a great place for communicating and receiving information but it doesn’t make a good project/task management system because you can’t prioritize those emails or tasks very easily. In the same way, your project/task management system isn’t a good filing system because you want to be able to “check off” or delete projects and tasks once you complete them, so you are only seeing what needs to get done. (Who doesn’t love the feeling of checking something off a list?)

This chart from David Allen shows how these 3 systems work together:


Now that you know my productivity philosophy (aka David Allen’s), here are the two apps I use the most for helping me stay productive:



Nozbe is my task management system. My favorite aspect about Nozbe is that it’s simple to use. You can start using it after only 5 minutes of downloading it/setting it up. Yet it doesn’t lose its power in its simplicity. 

Here are some other aspects I like about Nozbe:

    1. Inbox (Emails and Text Messages): I can forward emails directly into Nozbe and create a task right from my email inbox. (I can also take screenshots of text messages that I need to respond to and upload them directly into Nozbe.)
    2. Priority: Nozbe easily lets me create projects and then tasks underneath those projects. I can “star” them, which automatically puts those tasks on my priority list. Then, I can sort those priority tasks and put the highest priority at the top.
    3. Calendar: Nozbe syncs with my Google Calendar so any tasks that have specific due dates automatically sync to my calendar.
    4. Categories: This is probably the most powerful feature in Nozbe. I can create a customized “category” list and then assign categories to each task. I can also filter my priority list based upon that category. For example, let’s say I’m about to get in my car and run some errands. That is prime time for me to knock some tasks off my list (redeem that time in the car.) I can filter my priority list with the category “phone” and this shows all of the phone calls I have to make. Perfect – now I know what I can do while I’m driving. Or, let’s say I sent out 20 emails and now I’m wondering who hasn’t replied back. I can filter my list by “waiting-for” and see all of those emails. I can quickly follow-up on those emails with the filtered list.



Evernote is my digital brain. I use it as a filing cabinet, project management system, and content calendar for my blog. Again, I value simplicity, which is why I use Evernote. It can be used in a matter of minutes after downloading. (And they have a free version so you can test it out before deciding if you want to pay for their more robust features.) 

Here is why I like Evernote:

    1. Inbox:Just like Nozbe, I can email directly into Evernote. If I receive an email with some key information from a client that I want to remember, I can directly send it from my inbox. Or if there is an attachment that I want to save I can shoot that over to Evernote. 
    2. Digital Filing Cabinet: Evernote lets you create “notebooks” that contain multiple “notes.” Think of notebooks like a file folder and notes like the actual files inside that folder. With Evernote, I can put text, pictures, videos, and audio files all inside a note. What makes Evernote really powerful is its search function. You can take a picture or screenshot of a quote and Evernote can read the words of that quote from your picture. Amazing!
    3. Scanning: Evernote has a scanning feature inside the app which is great for loose paper information that you want to digitize.
    4. Business Cards: In my opinion, Evernote is a must for business card storage. You can scan the business card in Evernote and create a digital file. Plus Evernote will create a contact on your phone if you want it to. 
    5. Tags: I already mentioned the power of Evernote’s search. But “tags” make that search even more powerful. Just like categories in Nozbe, I can create a customizable list of tags and then tag notes. I use tags for helping me create content for public speaking events, training workshops, and blogging. For example, let’s say I am speaking at a conference called IAAPA Expo 2020 (which I really am, by the way). I can create a tag for that conference “IAAPA 2020” and then every time I read or see something that would be great for that speaking engagement, I can create a note in Evernote and then tag it with “IAAPA 2020.” When it comes time for me to prepare for my session, I can search “IAAPA 2020” and find all the quotes, illustrations, and other pieces of information for that speaking engagement. 

I could talk all day about Nozbe and Evernote. (I told you I’m a productivity nerd.) But I’ll refrain for all of our sakes. :) 

If you would like to learn more about the apps and programs in my toolbox, check out my brand new Resources page. Here I include the productivity apps listed above, my website and blogging tools, and some of my favorite books. 


Game Plan

When you think about your inboxes, project/task management system, and filing system, which one of those areas is hindering your productivity? Review David Allen’s chart above and focus on one of those areas to make yourself more efficient.


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The Most Important Strategies for Managing Effectively

The Most Important Strategies for Managing Effectively

Gallup research has found that employees don’t leave organizations, they leave bosses.

If you could do only one thing to significantly improve your employee experience, hire better managers. Your managers and positional leaders will have the greatest influence on your employees and their experience. 

That’s the simple answer. But in reality, hiring is only one piece of the equation. The next piece is how you train managers or really, the expectations you should have for your managers. 

Here are some of the key strategies great managers use:


Conduct Consistent 1:1 Meetings

Research detailed in the book 4 Disciplines of Execution has shown that only 34 percent of employees can respond positively to the statement “I meet at least monthly with my manager to discuss my progress on goals.”

It’s no wonder that managers are clueless on how their teams feel. 

Consistent 1:1 meetings give you (the manager) the opportunity to individually check the pulse of your team members and see how they are doing. It also allows you to get an update on their projects and communicate any relevant information they need to know. Finally, 1:1’s actually make you more productive as a manager. When your team knows they will have a touchpoint with you in the next week, they are less likely to interrupt you with non-urgent matters. 


Motivate Through Vision (and Stories)

Employees need to see why their job matters. Research tells us that if you give an employee a handwritten note, you will motivate them on average for about two weeks. If you give them a raise, you improve their morale for about 6 weeks. Both of those things are important. But if you want to motivate someone for life, they need to be able to answer “yes” to this question: “Did I make a difference today?” 

How do you show your team they are making a difference? Though stories. You need to become a story collector. Share positive customer reviews and testimonials with them and show them how they played a role in that customer’s experience. 


Nourish Through Praise

Most people are malnourished when it comes to praise. Gallup found that 79% of employees leave an organization because of a lack of appreciation.  And Dave Ramsey says, “The last time most people received praise was at their high school graduation.” You need to praise and recognize both your team as a whole and individuals when they succeed. The key to effective praise is being specific, genuine, and (when possible) rewarding the person publicly. (Here are some tips on how to give effective praise.)


Starve Through Feedback

“It’s what you tolerate that shows your leadership.” –Extreme Ownership 

Too many leaders allow employees whose actions are not aligned with the organization’s values to thrive. Managers have to starve negativity, gossip, and anything else that distracts from the company’s culture. 

The way you do this is through constructive feedback. The best way to think about giving feedback is like being a “rumble strip.” (You know, the bumps on the side of the interstate that tell you when you’re headed off the road.) They make a lot of noise when you cross them. As a manager, you need to cast good expectations so your team knows what is expected of them. Give them freedom “in between” those expectations so they can make projects their own. But when someone crosses that expectation you must restore them back in line with your organization’s values. 

Remember “what gets rewarded gets repeated.” 

(Want to learn how to give feedback effectively? I talk more about this subject here.)

Finally, the most important attribute a leader can have is empathy. As John Maxwell says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much they care.” Your employees need to not just hear about how much you care but they need to see your empathy in action by the way you value them. 


Game Plan

Do you meet regularly with your employees in 1:1 meetings? If not, I want you to start by meeting with them biweekly. In one of your first meetings, ask them “What is hindering you from being more productive and successful at your job?” And don’t get defensive if they talk about you. Listen and show empathy. 


Tweetable Lesson

The Secret to Effectively Leading Others

The Secret to Effectively Leading Others

Think about a person who has significantly influenced your life. Someone you would consider a mentor or personal hero. Do you have that person’s name and face in your mind?

Now, I want you to think about how that person influenced your life. What did they do to have such significant influence or leadership in your life? Check out today’s video for the secret to effectively leading others.


Game Plan

Think about this question (and then go and do!): Who do you need to spend more time with in your life? 

PS – If you’re interested in learning more about leading others well, especially those of you who either manage people in the workplace or contribute to your company culture, I invite you to attend Part 3 of our free Summer Webinar Series: The New-Norm Employee Experience: 5 Essentials for Creating a Healthy and Effective Team Culture. It will be a great time to talk through how we can lead others well in both a season and an environment that is different than what we’re used to. You can join me by registering here.

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How to “WOW” Your New Employee on Their First Day

How to “WOW” Your New Employee on Their First Day

Do you remember the first job you ever had? (I mean aside from working around the house for your allowance.) 

I do. My parents wanted to instill in me a good work ethic so they got me a job the summer after my freshman year doing maintenance work for my high school. It was basically manual labor. (And why to this day I hate painting.)

Do you remember the first day of your first job? 

Again, I do. My mom dropped me off at the school. I had no idea where to go. I didn’t know if I was meeting my supervisor at the office or the maintenance shed or even where the maintenance shed was. So I wandered around for a while and eventually found it. Honestly, it wasn’t a great first impression for me or a great start to my professional career.

Most people remember the first day of their first job. And if you haven’t worked for too many companies in your professional career, you probably remember most of your first days (especially the negative experiences).

Unfortunately, too many organizations are not intentional with their onboarding process (the time from after an employee is hired through their first few weeks on the job.) Onboarding is extremely important because it will shape an employee’s experience and their initial view of the company. Sometimes this experience (especially when it’s poor) will create lasting impressions that an employee will never get over. 

How do we as managers create an onboarding process that values our incoming employees? The best way to think about onboarding is to picture yourself planning a birthday party for the employee. 

Here are the steps:


Be Prepared

When you plan a person’s birthday party, you think through the logistics. When are we going to have it? Where is it going to be? Who is invited? Have I communicated the details to everyone?

After a new employee accepts your job offer, you need to begin planning for their first day. Create checklists of the people who need to know that this person has just been hired. Communicate with IT about getting them an email address, computer, login access to the different technology systems you have, and etc. 

Too many times companies don’t have these things ready for when the employee arrives. That’s like having a party where nothing is set up when the guest of honor arrives. 

Also, make sure they know where to park, how to navigate through security, and where to meet you.


Be Intentional 

At a birthday party, the host thinks through what type of dessert or cake that person likes. They think through the decorations and ambience of the party.

Design your onboarding process so that you get some information on what your new employee likes. Find out what their favorite drink is from Starbucks, favorite candy bar, go-to snack, etc.? Have those things on their desk before they arrive. Decorate their workspace. If they are new to your area, create a list of top restaurants to try. Be intentional. It shows that you care about them individually.


Be Present

After being prepared and being intentional, a host makes sure that they are actually there for the party. Not just physically, but also mentally. 

As their direct supervisor, you need to carve out time during your employee’s first day and first few weeks to spend extra time with them. You need to show them the ropes so to speak and get them accustomed to your company’s culture. 

One approach that I have seen organizations adopt that I really like is to assign a new employee a “buddy.” A seasoned employee who can help get your new employee acclimated. When choosing a “buddy” make sure that the employee is a really good culture fit. You don’t want someone who is bitter or a gossiper. You don’t want them to start instilling bad habits into the new employee. 


Show Your Culture

Every party has a theme or purpose. Your organization has a theme and purpose. It’s your culture. Your mission and values in action. Too many times during a new employee’s onboarding and orientation culture is talked about but not experienced. As a good friend of mine says, “Culture is more effectively caught than taught.” New employees need to be immersed in your organization’s culture.

Here are a few ways to do this:

    1. When possible, let your new employee experience your company like your customers. If your business is a restaurant, let them (and their family) dine at your place and enjoy the food and ambience. If you are a technology company, let them use that technology.
    2. Share stories. Stories are powerful. Share the positive comments that both customers and other employees have given about their experience with your company.
    3. Let them have fun with your team. Plan lunches, happy hours, and other “hang out” times that allow them to meet the team in a non-threatening and not overly formal environment. 

You might be thinking, “Shawn, this all sounds great, but how am I supposed to onboard a new employee effectively in this season where my whole team is working remotely?” If that’s you, I encourage you to join me for our Part 3 of our free Summer Webinar Series entitled: The New-Norm Employee Experience: 5 Essentials for Creating a Healthy and Effective Team Culture.


Game Plan

What is one practical thing you can do to improve your onboarding process?


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4 Ways to Improve Your Hiring Process

4 Ways to Improve Your Hiring Process

For the last 10 years, our country’s unemployment rate has steadily decreased which subsequently favored job candidates. Call it an “employee market.” As a result, many organizations changed their hiring processes and even, in certain situations, lowered their standards because of their hiring needs. 

However, all that has changed. With fewer job openings and an exponential increase in unemployment, the process now favors the company. Call it an “employer market.” 

With more applications and fewer job openings, it’s imperative for organizational leaders and hiring managers to have a hiring process that filters out those candidates who are not a fit for your company culture and allows the truly qualified applicants to rise to the top.

I understand the importance of hiring. In 2015, I was on the founding team of Typhoon Texas Waterpark and my first project was to design a hiring process that could accommodate 5,000 applications and effectively hire 900 seasonal employees in a span of 4 months. It was a challenging and very eye-opening project. Through that process, my team and I learned when it comes to hiring effectively, every organization must follow the “4 C’s.”



Character can be defined as doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Employees with high character are dependable and trustworthy. And character has become even more important with companies having to work remotely. An employee with high character can be expected to work hard even when no one is looking. 

Here’s the problem, it’s hard to measure character in a traditional interview. Here are three ways to assess character during the hiring process:

    1. My good friend Jessica Coleman is an organizational development culture expert and she advises companies to use the application in general to evaluate character. Ask yourself, “Did they answer all the questions in the application? Did they get the application back to you in a timely manner?” 
    2. She also says that in the interview you can ask a question such as, “Tell me about a time when you had to stand up for someone else?” This gives the applicant an opportunity to talk about their character (or the lack thereof.) 
    3. Finally, use the audition model. Many industries such as sports and theater require candidates to audition for roles. You can design part of your hiring process to allow applicants to demonstrate their character. At Typhoon Texas, in our interview invite email we asked candidates to bring a highlighter with them to the interview. This was a simple test or exercise to see if they were thorough in reading the email which reveals an aspect of character. Have fun and get creative with your “auditions.” 



“Culture” is a buzzword today. It basically means “values in action.” I’ve been on many hiring teams where someone would say that an applicant “isn’t a culture fit.” The problem is that they couldn’t explain it any further. Effective organizations clearly define their values and make them as objective as possible. You have to know what makes a great employee before you can hire one. 

And remember, culture is king. Effective organizations don’t compromise on culture. As the saying goes, “hire for attitude, train for skills.” You can’t train culture or attitude. Either someone has it or they don’t. So design your application and interview processes to allow employees to demonstrate if they are a culture fit.



I define competency as “knowledge + skills.” This is their aptitude. Ideally, the goal is not just to hire for attitude, but also aptitude. How do you measure someone’s competency? I’m going to go back to the audition model. Take time to list the ideal skills that a great candidate should have for this role. Once you know those specific skills, think about how someone could demonstrate those skills on the application or in the interview process. For example, if it is coding, have your top candidates work on a coding project and pay them a little for it. This allows you to see their skills in action. 

Also, many organizations are realizing that with the ever-changing technological landscape, the most effective competency piece that an employee can possess is the ability to learn



Chemistry is how a person interacts and gets along with others. I have seen too many organizations keep horrible managers around because they had high competency, but everyone else literally couldn’t stand to be around them. Don’t get me wrong, leadership is not a popularity contest and if a leader is leading effectively some people won’t like it. But effective leaders don’t have to be jerks. Some of the best leaders around are self-aware, have compassion, practice active listening, and as a result earn trust. Those are the ingredients for high chemistry.

How do you evaluate chemistry? Have them interact with others in your organization both in 1:1 and group situations.

Let multiple employees in your organization have 1:1 mini-interviews with your candidates. Also, grab lunch or coffee with the candidate and invite other team members to join you. Or, in light of social-distancing, have a virtual happy hour that the candidate attends.

Just remember we are not necessarily looking for high extroverts. Chemistry or a high EQ doesn’t depend on extrovert vs. introvert, it depends upon maturity which comes from self-awareness.

Remember, high character, high culture, and high chemistry should be non-negotiables; competency can be slightly compromised. 


Game Plan

For all of my positional leaders and hiring managers, review your hiring process and compare it with the “4 C’s.” Which area are you not evaluating effectively? What changes do you need to make?


Tweetable Lesson



The Difference Between Leadership and Management

The Difference Between Leadership and Management

I just recently added another category to our Your Leadership Coach blog. That category is Management. (To learn more about why I added this category and the purpose of the categories on this blog, check out the update here.)

For some, it may seem repetitious to have a leadership category and a management category. Many people (including me at times), use these words interchangeably. However, there is a fundamental difference between leadership and management, and the sooner we recognize this the more effective we will be at leading and managing.

To start our conversation on leadership and management, I think Stephen Covey best illustrates the difference by this analogy in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which is also in my top 2 favorite leadership books of all time):

“You can quickly grasp the important difference between the two if you envision a group of producers cutting their way through the jungle with machetes. They’re the producers, the problem solvers. They’re cutting through the undergrowth, clearing it out.

The managers are behind them, sharpening their machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs, bringing in improved technologies, and setting up working schedules and compensation programs for machete wielders.

The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, ‘Wrong jungle!’ But how do the busy, efficient producers and managers often respond? ‘Shut up! We’re making progress.’”

Do you see the difference? Here are some of the characteristics of leadership and management: 

The main characteristics of good leadership are…



My favorite definition of leadership comes from John Maxwell when he says that “leadership is influence.” Leadership is not about a job title or a position. People can’t “give you” leadership. It’s something that you earn. Leadership is the ability to inspire and motivate others to act, to realize their dreams, to pursue self-development, etc. 



How do leaders inspire and motivate? Through their vision. They understand that people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. A great leader knows both their personal vision or purpose in this life and also the vision or desired culture for their team and/or organization. They influence, inspire, or create a following through personally embodying their vision and publicly proclaiming it. 



Perhaps the biggest difference between leadership and management is people. Leadership is specifically about others. Your vision is not meant to be kept for yourself. It’s meant to inspire others to become the best versions of themselves. The only way a leader can accomplish this is through empathy and building trust. 

As I’ve heard it said, “be effective with people and efficient with tasks.” And that’s where leadership ends and management begins. 


The main characteristic of good management is…



Managers focus on the ROI. How do they get the most out of their people and systems? How do they work smarter and not just harder? How can they multiply their efforts?

The three areas that effective managers focus on when it comes to efficiency are: 

  1. Time
  2. Meetings (1:1s, team, corporate, etc.)
  3. Systems (task management, communication like email or Slack, CRMs, etc.)


Why is it important to know the difference between leadership and management?

Management without leadership lacks purpose. Leadership without management lacks productivity. You need both to be successful whether personally or professionally. 



Game Plan

Most people are either more naturally gifted at leadership or management, but usually not both. 

  1. Recognize which one (leadership or management) you are most gifted in. Ask your friends. Take a strengths or personality assessment. I recommend StrengthsFinder 2.0 and/or the Enneagram.
  2. Focus on one strength to refine (whether that be in leadership or management). 
  3. Recognize one weakness from the area you are naturally gifted in (leadership or management) and get that weakness to par or average.


If you are interested in some coaching on how to develop your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses, check out our coaching programs here. We offer a wide variety of options, including 1:1 coaching, coaching cohorts, and our brand new virtual coaching called YLC+


Tweetable Lesson



7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey)

StrengthsFinder 2.0 (Gallup)

The Road Back to You (a book on the Enneagram by Cron & Stabile)

Coaching Programs & Resources