3 False Productivity Goals That Trap Too Many Leaders


It’s a universal tension you feel and almost every leader experiences: the drive to get more done.

Maybe you feel the pressure because you’re starting or restarting something, and you know that if you only do more of the same, the end is near. So you push hard and drive for more. And before you know it, you’re out of hours to get it all done.

Or maybe whatever you lead is growing. You’re just trying to keep up and are drowning under the onslaught of requests and demands that keep coming your way. You just can’t keep up.

I’ve led in both scenarios.

The drive to get more done almost always comes with a cost: you and the ones you love.

The question I want to keep asking is: does it have to be that way, in my life and in your life?

I believe the answer is no.

While there’s no easy answer, there are better answers. You just need to know how to find them.

Over the last decade, I’ve gotten a lot more accomplished than I used to, but it’s a daily discipline.

Along the way, here are three false productivity goals I’ve had to abandon on my leadership journey.

See if you can relate. I hope all of it helps you.

The drive to get more done almost always comes with a cost: you and the ones you love. Click To Tweet

1. Effectiveness, Not Efficiency

I remember when our churches started to grow, I was all about efficiency.

Efficiency, after all, would save the day.

If I could get something that used to take an hour down to 30 minutes, I could double my capacity. Enter technology, and efficiency can go on a rocket ride.

The problem is efficiency, though, is its limits. By nature, efficiency lives in the finite universe of time.

No matter how smart or capable you may be, every leader only gets 24 hours each day.

As a result, efficiency can only get you so far. By nature, it has diminishing returns.

By nature, efficiency has diminishing returns. Click To Tweet

Think about it. If you had 16 tasks that take you an hour and, through efficiency, you cut each down to 30 minutes each, you already have a relatively full work day (8 hours). Your capacity to take on more is very limited.

I’m all for efficiency when it matters, but to go one step further, some activities are by nature not inherently efficient.

People aren’t efficient (bet you’ve noticed that). Neither is sermon preparation or writing. Neither is brainstorming or long-term planning. Parenting isn’t efficient. Neither is marriage or friendship.

Sometimes you need the gifts of space and time. You need uninterrupted, unhurried time to explore whatever you need to explore, relationally or otherwise.

In all matters where you can be efficient, do it. An accounting system that cuts the time in half is probably worth whatever it costs. Ditto with email, routine meetings and so much of what occupies daily life.

But as efficient as you may become, you only have so many hours in a day. And part of what you do will never be fully efficient.

So along the way, I stopped just thinking in terms of efficiency and started thinking in terms of effectiveness.

Stop asking yourself how to be more efficient. Start asking yourself how to be more effective.

Becoming more effective might mean you cut 17 efficient things out of your life. Sure, you may be efficient at a lot of things, but being efficient at things that don’t matter isn’t a win. It’s a loss.

Being efficient at things that don't matter isn't a win. It's a loss. Click To Tweet

Becoming more effective might mean you cut out six meetings so you can have a full day to ponder and think about the future, or to work on your message, or to handle those difficult personnel problems that never go away.

It might mean you hire someone to do your finance or find a volunteer to do expenses so you can focus on the highest value activities that move your mission forward.

Don’t ask yourself how you can be more efficient. Ask yourself how you can be more effective.

Don't ask yourself how you can be more efficient. Ask yourself how you can be more effective. Click To Tweet

2. Accomplishment, Not Activity

Most of us have had the terrible feeling of having hustled hard for 8-12 hours all day, but at the end of it we’re not exactly sure what we did.

Sure, we played Wac-A-Mole with our inbox (for every one we answered, two more showed up), we got pulled into meetings, had lots of conversations, answered texts, and barely had time to breathe.

But looking back on it, we’re not really sure what we accomplished.

Too much work today is defined by activity. Not nearly enough is defined by accomplishment.

Too much work today is defined by activity. Not nearly enough is defined by accomplishment. Click To Tweet

Activity may give you a paycheck (it’s amazing to me how many companies and even churches still pay people for showing up).

But accomplishment is the only thing that both gives you a sense of purpose and meaning in life and move the overall mission forward.

It’s what will allow you to rest at the end of the day knowing you’ve made some kind of a difference and contribution.

If you want to feel a great sense of purpose, write down what you want to accomplish every day. Don’t just write down tasks, set goals related to the mission.

Then calendar your day to them.

Activity may give you a paycheck. Accomplishment will give you a purpose. Click To Tweet

Great leaders focus on accomplishment, not activity.

3. Progress, Not Productivity

Productivity is another goal that’s trapped me over the years.

Again, it’s good to be productive in the same way it’s good to be efficient.

But you can have productive day after productive day and still miss the mission.

I’ve learned to ask whether I’ve made progress even more often than whether or not I was productive.

Progress forces you to ask bigger questions.

Progress makes you look at whether you advanced the mission. It makes you ask whether you’ve made people better, or whether you’ve just gotten something out of them for yet another day.

It focuses you on growing your skill set, on improving the team.

Progress makes you work on it, not just in it.

If you focus on progress enough, you won’t come to the end of a year and realize you just completed a year that looked exactly like the year before, which in turn looked surprisingly like the year before.

Progress is all about the future. Productivity is about the present.

Productive leaders make today better. Leaders focused on progress make tomorrow better.

Productive leaders make today better. Leaders focused on progress make tomorrow better. Click To Tweet

Crush Your Goals…

So how do you get out of the traps you fall into as a leader?

What you likely need is a better system. So…some help.

The High Impact Leader course is an online, on-demand course designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favour.

You can complete the three-hour course at your own pace. It’s the most comprehensive content I’ve ever created for leaders to help you reclaim HOURS every day so you can become more effective at work and more present at home. When your time, energy, and priorities are all working together for you, it’ll impact everything you do.

  • You become a better leader, because you’re doing what you do best when you’re at your best
  • You become a better spouse, because you’re focused at home
  • You become a better parent, neighbor, and friend, because you actually have time off to relax and engage

These principles will free you to thrive in every area of your life.

You can learn more and gain instant access today.

Remember, if you change you, you change everything.

If you change you, you change everything. Click To Tweet

In the meantime

What have you learned about getting and staying healthy in leadership? And why do you think over-working traps so many leaders?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

3 False Productivity Goals That Trap Too Many Leaders


  1. Paul Noblin on September 28, 2019 at 8:50 pm

    The Key to the Universe;
    Revelation One Nineteen
    Write down a brief account of your day, your problems that day, and a list of tasks to do the next day.
    ©1985 Paul Noblin

    Read Rev.1:19 (KJV).
    “Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;”
    Write down the past, present, and future.
    Align your inside mind with the outside world (reality including Christ), and you will be one with All.
    Telepath Love & Perfection.
    The past is not fixed. The past is in flux and is constantly changing.
    You can bend reality.
    You are the center of your own Universe.
    Reprogram yourself.
    It only 15 or 20 minutes of your evening.

    You must join our organization. The S. P. C. P. – The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to People.
    Just bury $40.00 in a jar in your backyard. We will contact you. Presto. You’re in!

    James Christ is the Son of God. Everything in the Christian Bible is True. Do you believe that the Bible is the Word of God? If you do, you must read every Word of it. Read it once for content. Read it again for context. Read it every day.

    God has a Time & Space machine. I have met US, who are humans, a million billion generations from now. They travel to any point in Time &.Space, instantly. They ride the highways of light. They are re-engineering their past. I told them about Jesus Christ and the Christian Bible. They went back in time and observed Jesus. When they returned, they told me that Jesus Christ really is the Son of God, and every Word of our Living Christian Bible is True. We worship the same God, but they lost Jesus and the Bible along the way. I saved US through Jesus. God is great. I have everlasting Life. The instant before I die, I will be beamed up. I will pass through fire, and all my sins and imperfections will be washed away by the Sacrid Blood of Jesus. This is why you should perfect yourself into the image of Jesus while you live on this earth. Some people will reach Heaven as a cinder. Follow Jesus and the Straight & Narrow Way.

    Warm Regards… paul.

    Prayers for Carey, his family, and his Blessed Ministry. I love you. Carry on!!!

  2. Bua Emmy on September 28, 2019 at 7:08 am

    Our God is awesome
    May his name be soundful….

    • Dale on September 28, 2019 at 8:10 am

      Great stuff I will share this with our leadership

  3. Week 25 Inspiration 2018 - Bogdan D on June 20, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    […] Progress is all about the future. Productivity is about the present […]

  4. Jamie MacArthur on December 20, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    Thank you, Carey. I respect your honesty, and your willingness to take the time to help others to learn from and with you. As lead pastor of a small church, I really appreciate the fact that you make some of your strategic and encouraging resources available for free. The fact they are free has no impact on the way I value them, but has a huge impact on my ability to access them.
    Thanks again. I look forward to learning more, and becoming more and more effective as a leader.

  5. Charlene Daidone RN on December 19, 2017 at 9:34 am

    Thank you Carey, I have been working as a nurse manager and I am moving up to an Assistant Director of Nursing position. I loved your article and will definitely apply this to my work. In nursing I have a few also. I have seen great success in applying Knowledge, Respect, and Appreciation with my staff that includes everyone from certified nursing assistants, nurses to housekeeping staff. In my field it is so very important to empower your staff to do a great job instead of dictating. I have built great teams who take pride in their work. In the nursing field that is priceless. Thank you again and along with your leadership process patient and staff satisfaction is our true goal.

  6. JoePrince on December 19, 2017 at 8:28 am


  7. UDOH MADUEMEZIE on December 19, 2017 at 1:18 am

    Good leadership lesson. Thanks Carey…

  8. seth on December 18, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Great article Carey. I find out when I’m super busy, I tend to not sleep as much. I don’t get a lot of “ME” time so I stay up later on my phone or watching T.V. rather than going to bed like I should.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 18, 2017 at 8:11 pm

      Oh man that can happen, can’t it?

  9. Ron on December 18, 2017 at 10:14 am

    Great post

  10. Ron on December 18, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Regarding efficiency and effectiveness – Covey said it best. You can be efficient with resources but you must be effective with people. The problem is when you see people as resources and try to be efficient with them – something will fail.

  11. Jan Oller on December 18, 2017 at 10:03 am

    Thanks, Carey. I wonder if you see the shift in focus – progress/productivity, for example, as also impacting relationship? For me, as a pastor, my call is primarily about relationship building both internally and externally. That’s one reason you earlier comments about the church being all about relationship and no other organization should be able to out-community the church struck home.
    For me, a focus on progress, efficiency and activity can pull me away from developing relationships.
    Appreciate all you do- certainly give me lots to think about!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 18, 2017 at 8:12 pm

      I think effectiveness is related to things like relationships. There is little efficiency in relationships, but if you become effective at them and strategic in most things, you’re hitting the marks that can make you a better leader.

  12. Gary on December 18, 2017 at 8:59 am

    Thanks for this. I am a CFO of a group of SMEs and by now my team has, through continued emphasis, memorized the following outline (on which they are measured as well)
    1. Customer Service
    a) timely
    b) reliable (accurate)
    c) friendly
    2. Productivity
    a) effective (achieving the goals)
    b) efficient (achieving the goals with the least amount of waste)
    It is understood as well that there are good job descriptions and a mission/vision/values statement under which the above measures are worked at by the team members as they go about their daily tasks.

    I like some of the nuances you have made (although I would never minimize efficiency/continuous improvement) and I may incorporate them in my outline.

    Thanks for this….. Gary

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 18, 2017 at 8:13 pm

      Thanks Gary!

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