Meet Productivity Expert Neen James
Jenn DeWall: Hi everyone, Jenn DeWall here, and on this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit Podcast, I was lucky enough to interview Neen James. Now for those that don’t know Neen, she is a leadership expert who delivers high energy keynote presentations that challenge audiences to leverage their focus and pay attention to what matters most at work and in life. Audiences love her practical strategies. They can apply both personally and professionally and she’s the author of many books and today we’re going to be talking about two of them, her books, Folding Time and Attention Pays. Enjoy
Jenn DeWall: Hi everyone. Thank you for tuning into this week’s episode of the Leadership Habit Podcast. I am so excited to finally have productivity and time management expert, oh my gosh, the woman that can make you manage your time more effectively, Neen James. Neen, thank you so much for joining us on the show. I’m so happy to have you.
Neem James: Well hello, Jenn. What a treat it is to share with your listeners and to serve in this way. Love your podcast. Love that you featured amazing people. Mark Sanborn, Simon Bailey, Shep Hyken, you have it all going on for your listeners. It’s my privilege to be here.
Jenn DeWall: Yes. And you are just, you know, you’re a force to be reckoned with when it comes down to how we can actually maybe do more with less or just be more intentional. And I’m so excited to really dive into, you know, a few of your books that you’ve written, which I know our listeners will just really connect with because even right now in the state of COVID-19, we’re struggling with how the heck to manage our time and it feels like we don’t have control over it or mainly because it was pushed, right? We had to go and shift to this virtual state without much thought behind it. But before we go into the content, please just tell us a little bit about you. For our listeners that may not have ever met you, I want them to know what you do, what your expertise is. So tell us about you, Neem.
Neem James: Well, I grew up in corporate business in Australia. So for those of you attempting to locate this accent, I hail from Sydney, Australia, and in my corporate life, gosh, I was in retail banking, telecommunications, and the oil industry. There’s not a lot of chicks in oil when I was there, but as an attention expert, I am obsessed with helping people get more done, and I want the world to truly pay attention. You know, I’ve had the privilege of working with 1450 fortune 500 companies across the globe, and so what I’m often described as it’s the Energizer bunny for a meeting. You see, what’s unique about me is the fact that I am Australian, so I have a global perspective, but I also became an American citizen, so I have a local perspective as well as the author of nine books on this whole idea of productivity and intention.
You can see I’m so obsessed with this particular topic. I’m the oldest of five. I sound like I’m five. So there’s that. But what often happens, Jenn, is people kind of come to me and they say things like, Neem, there is never enough time in a day. Or they say things like; there’s so much to do, it doesn’t even know where to focus, right? Well, they might say, Jenn, I’m exhausted. And what I do is I fix that. Because I’m going to put that super practical, tangible things they can apply immediately, whether it’s at work or home. And, Jenn, the reason I do what I do is I just want the world to pay attention. I think that when we pay attention to our relationships are deeper, we take care of our clients, have colleagues and communities. And you know that’s how I think to make a greater impact in the world. So that’s why I was so honored to be invited to share with your listeners today.
Jenn DeWall: I think your why is so powerful. And it’s often maybe not the first place people look when they think about how can I really enrich my life? They may not immediately go to productivity or attention, but I think what we’re going to talk about today is just really truly giving people maybe the awareness over something that they have control over, that they had no idea that can make a meaningful life. And that’s why I’m so excited to be talking about this as we need to make this a primary focus that people think, Oh, things aren’t going right. Maybe this is one of the first places that I can look to feel out to figure out how I can make it better. Oh yeah. No. If you, you can go on to,
Effective Managers Get Things Done
Neem James: You know, Jenn, one thing I realized in my career, I was watching these people who get promoted, and I think how are they getting promoted? And I realized they could get things done. The people that were getting ahead were the people who were productive, that could deliver on projects, that had integrity, that they were able to keep their word. And I noticed early in my career that if I could get things done, I could get ahead. And so while everyone listening may not have aspirations of promotions, but they want to be strong leaders in their role. And what I wanted to be able to do was to truly make a bigger impact in whatever role I took on. And this is where I think my fascination with productivity and intention really started. But I had this insight very early in my career that time management’s out the window. That’s a stupid concept. We can’t manage time.
Neem James: I cannot believe I went to time management courses, and I had a fundamental issue with them that I had no control over time because time’s going to happen, whether you like it or not. You and I get 1,440 minutes in a day. It doesn’t matter. So people who want to do time management. But I’m like, that’s so dumb. It doesn’t make sense. You can’t manage time, but you can manage your attention. And what I realized was that if we were going to have a greater impact in the world, it wasn’t just about being accountable for our time. It’s also about managing our attention and leveraging our energy.
And that’s why the first book, Folding Time, was so popular was because I was able to say to people, it’s okay if you feel like it’s not managed time because you can’t. It’s a stupid goal. But you can manage your attention, and that’s why Attention Pays became so popular as well, which is my latest book. Because we were able to share with people sometimes that getting back to those fundamentals, Jenn, if you want to be a strong leader, it’s about really mastering your attention and being intentional with that, and being able to then have strategies behind it of how you can get more done. So productivity is an outcome of how you manage your attention.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh. You just said so much there. I mean nine books and we’re fortunate enough to be able to talk about two of them right now, which first we’re going to jump into folding time, which as a bonus to all of our listeners, Nina’s offering you to get this book for free. You can download it from her website, so we’ll give you those details at the show notes and at the end. But let’s jump into folding time. What does it mean to fold time? For those that maybe are like, what is that concept? That sounds different, to like fold time.
You Can’t Manage Time, But You Can Manage Attention
Neem James: Well, as I said, you can’t manage time, but you can fold time. And what I realized was when you combine your ability to be more accountable for your time, to manage your attention and leverage your energy, what happens as a result of that is you start to manage your workflow very differently. You filter your decisions in a completely different way. And then what happens is you invest in the most impactful things. You also are a person of integrity who does what they say they’re going to do, and that’s how you make a greater impact. So when readers download the book, if they want to go to page 27, they’ll see a contextual model there that outlines what folding time is really about. As I said, we really have to think through how are we managing our attention so we can make the most of this moment.
Neem James: We have these crazy to-do lists, Jenn. We wake up with to-do lists. We have a to-do list in the shower. We think that must do this. I must do that. Our brain is constantly telling us to do things. I say in air quotes and what happens often is people are very busy, but busy is not necessarily productive. And I realize when I was interviewing all my CEOs for the book, for Folding Time, is they were saying the same things. There are never enough hours in the day. They couldn’t get everything done. There were too many projects and what came really clear to me was that they were trying to sometimes be really busy, but that wasn’t necessarily getting them closer to their goals, and that’s why folding time is the combination of being accountable for the time you have, managing the attention you have and leveraging the energy that you bring.
Jenn DeWall: Yes, you give quite a few different recommendations in the book on how we can fold time, and I just pulled out a few that I thought might be helpful for our listeners and one of the first ones that I pulled out, and you just touched on it, is accountability. I think that I pulled it out because I think people forget that they can hold themselves accountable. They always, again, it’s always we’re at the mercy of someone else’s standards, deadlines, accountability to them, but not accountable to ourselves. So what does it mean to truly be accountable?
Neem James: You know, I think everyone gets this concept, but they think about it more for someone else. We won’t let someone else down, but we will happily disappoint ourselves. For example, let’s say it’s January, and you’re in Denver, and you have a new year’s resolution of getting fit. And so you decided to set your alarm again and go to the gym, and you’re going to work out, and then it gets a little too cold or it’s just a little too early, and after a couple of weeks you’re like, I’m sick of getting up early, and I don’t want to do this anymore.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh, can you see inside my house?
Leverage Accountability to Increase Productivity
Neem James: But if you had a friend and you said, I’m going to meet you at that 6:00 AM class in Colorado, right? Yeah. You don’t want to let your friend down. You’re not going to bail on them. You’re not going to turn the snooze on your alarm, and you’re going to get up, you’re going to get dressed, you’re going to go to the gym, you get to meet your friend because public accountability drives private accountability. So if the people who challenge, who find it a challenge to be accountable to themselves, I believe one system to leverage accountability is to get an accountability partner. I’ve been doing this for years, Jenn. My accountability partner, her name’s Tams, and she lives in Boston. And so every Monday I send Tams and a list of things I’m going to achieve this week. And then, every Friday, I send an update.
And so what this does is I declare to her, you’re going to hold me accountable for these things, and we have consequences. But literally, I use this as my to-do list, and I cross things off in the week. And that accountability partnership drives my behavior. So think about this as leaders, we hold our team to these standards. They have a job description. They have deliverables. You have performance management in place. So we’re really good at doing it as leaders for our team, but we have to be good at doing it as leaders for ourselves. So find a colleague or someone outside. I also believe people pay for accountability. This is why we have great executive coaches. We have mentors. So being able to help people understand this is what I’m working on when I work with executives in my mentoring program. Jenn, we establish an accountability plan for 90 days, and we say these are the things you are going to work on and so that they become hyper-focused on the achievement of that accountability plan.
So if you want to become more accountable so they can get more done, choose what’s going to be most important. Choose maybe someone who can help hold you accountable, and choose to think in 90-day cycles so you feel like you can have an amount of time where you can get those things. Accountability. Like I said, public accountability drives private accountability. Once you tell someone, you’re going to do something. You’re less likely not to do it because you don’t want to let them down. You can use it to drive yourself. So, for example, if you have a status report you have to send to every Friday and you know your boss is expecting it, then you set up an accountability relationship with your boss and say, I’ll get that to you by 5:00 PM East coast time on Friday. And you know that’s going to drive everything you do cause you don’t want to let your boss down.
Neem James: But you can do the same thing. Set timeframe, set guidelines. And for those of you listening who have, you know, I have clients in APAC, in the US and all the Americans and stuff. And so we have to talk timezone, that accountability too. So we’ll say, I’ll have this to you by four o’clock East coast time zone on Friday. So you have an hour to turn it around before the East coast closes down on a Friday night. So we can actually use time in our language no matter where we are in the world. If we talk timezone, it’s an easy technique, and people listen if you talk time and thinking more about it.
Jenn DeWall: Ah, I love that. I have one question about the accountability because I think if I’m talking about myself, sometimes I can be talking with someone and we’re like, okay, we’re going to hold each other accountable. You’re going to do this, and I’m going to do this. But I think that the reason it falls apart for me is that I don’t experience the true consequences. So what are some recommended consequences that you’ve seen be maybe successful in helping to support that behavior change?
Neem James: I had a girlfriend, and we decided to set upon a fitness journey. And we decided to set a very significant goal that would stretch both of us, and there was a financial consequence. If I didn’t achieve the goal, I had to write a check to my friend for an amount of money that made me very uncomfortable. And so the consequence was financial, right? I have another friend who, through trauma, tends to self-soothe with candy. That is the way that they tend to feel better is candy, sugar. So there were consequences. So they made a commitment. They weren’t going to have candy or sugar, or lollies. Whatever, I’m Australian, we call them lollies Americans call them candy. But, so to my Australian listeners, you know what exactly what I’m talking about. But there were consequences to him if he had that candy, there were consequences. So I feel like consequences can be as simple as not being allowed to do something, or they could be as complex as having to do something like that hurts you, right?
A check, make a payment. Um, one particular challenge, I still with some of my, is they, what their consequence was, was to donate to a particular charity. So it was for the good of other people, right? So you want to think through what the consequences are. If it’s not just enough to be embarrassed to feel like you’re letting the person down, then you have to think what would that really look like? And it has to hurt a little bit. Like, you know what I mean? Like you’re not allowed to do something or attend something. Or buy some things. So, you know, this doesn’t work for everyone, but I think that accountability can be very internal for some people and they’re wired that way, which I admire. Those people and others of us are externally motivated, and external accountability is very helpful. So I think it’s really important that people understand that. We talk about this in one of the books, and I think if you can understand, are you a person who needs accountability publicly, then finding an accountability partner or a coach or colleague you trust. If you are internally motivated, you’re very motivated and accountable to yourself. And what are the consequences if you don’t achieve the things that you’re not declaring in the world. Does that help?
Jenn DeWall: Yeah, absolutely. I need to make my consequences a little bit higher. Because of it, you know, I, I do get a little bit, but I can quickly dismiss like, well, I’ll just try it again. So they will do that. You know, we have all of our personal excuses, but I don’t want to spend all of our time there, but that does absolutely help. Another concept that you talk about in terms of folding time is to be leveraged. And I thought that was important to pull out because I still think maybe some people aren’t as familiar with the term systematization, or to systematize your time, and so I was hoping we could talk a little bit about that for the people that may not be familiar with that concept.
Create Systems of Attention to Boost Productivity
Neem James: Yeah, and one of the things that are really popular now keynotes is we have this whole section on systems of attention and so creating systems of attention. If you think about the whole idea that systems create freedom, you know yourself and people listening to this, chances are when you get up in the morning, you have a system for taking a shower. You probably do the same thing in the same order most days. Rarely have I ever met any clients to get out of the shower, and they think, goodness me, I forgot to wash my body.
Why? Because you have a system for taking a shower. Chances are if you drive to work, if you’re commuting, you do the same route every day to work, and sometimes you might get home from work after you’ve driven home and thought, Oh my goodness, I don’t even remember the drive home. Why? Because you have a system for getting home and getting to work. These are systems. We have systems of attention in our life. The beauty of creating systems of attention is what you’re allowing your brain to do if you do the same thing, right? You’re allowing your brain to be freed up for more creative are that kind of uses and so one system that we talk to all the time, no matter where I am in the world, no matter what audience I’m serving, is one system of attention. That’s been very powerful for our leaders.
Neem James: It’s called the 15 minutes system, and what I encourage everyone to do is to have a strategic appointment with yourself every single day. Now it’s only 15 minutes. It’s at the top of the day. But the reason this is very useful is that what I’d invite people to consider is what are your top three non-negotiable activities. So before your head hits your pillow tonight, what are three things you absolutely must do? You have not negotiables. And this strategic appointment with yourself early in the day is going to set your priorities for the day. We call it prioritizing our priorities. And what this does as a leader is it gives you three things. Now, well, I have tried every app, planner, paper, analog, digital. You name it. I’ve tried it. And what I came down to was I have this strategic appointment with myself, this 15 minutes system, and the way that I do it now, people may want to write this down.
It’s pretty fancy. I literally grab a posted note, and here’s what I write on the top of the post-it note. I say, today, I will because it’s an agreement with myself that I will hold myself accountable to and I write three not-negotiable activities. Now, these activities will be very personal to you, but they are things that will drive your business forward, your objectives. These are things that, as a leader, are important to you. Because the challenge that many of our listeners might face is because they’re in leadership roles, they constantly serving people around them. As leaders, you have a team you manage, and so you’re helping them achieve their goals. You have a boss who wants your attention, and you’re helping achieve her goals, right? So you’ve got, you’re sort of stuck in the middle of the leaders, right? So you might be in the C-suite listening to this where you’ve got a board to answer to. You’ve got shareholders. So we all have another leader we answer to. And we’re often leading a group of people in our church, a community at the temple, wherever it is. And so as lead is, we need to think about how can I prioritize my priorities to allow me to focus my time and attention on getting things done.
So I carry this silly little post-it note with me, Jenn, all day because it becomes a decision filtering system every time I would much rather play on Instagram, then do an RFP for a client. I see this a little post-it note that says, Hey, by the way, did you finish that proposal? And so what it does is helps direct my attention. Not waste time, but really focus my attention and to get those things done. Here’s another reason why we love it. We love crossing things off. I mean, I wouldn’t be willing to admit on this podcast, there are people, so I bet you any money in the world, but they write things on a to-do list just so they can cross them off.
That’s the reason we do that is we want to notice something we did today that mattered. We want to know we made a difference. Our brain craves completion. You see, every time you ask your brain to do something, it’s like opening a new tab on your computer, right? And so there’s a great guy in Denver called Scott Halford and who wrote a fantastic book called Activate Your Brain. One thing that stood out to me in his book, he’s a genius, by the way. He’d be a great guest if you haven’t already had him on, but Scott talks about this idea that when you ask your brain to do something, it’s like opening a new tab on the computer and what your brain is craving- is completion. So the act of writing something down and crossing it off your brain gets so excited, it gives you like a little shot of dopamine, a happy drug, right?
And so it’s like a high five from your brain. And so we crave this completion, kind of the reason people feel so overwhelmed, so over-stressed, so tired, is they have so much incomplete, and it’s the incomplete projects, those things that are weighing us down that make us feel less productive. So I want to encourage listeners to try my 15-minute system. It’s outlined in the folding time book we’re giving to all of you, and I just want you to spend for the next week, just try it out 15 minutes every day, identify your top three, not-negotiable activities, and then write them on a post-it note. Carry them with you until they are complete, and then it feels so good at the end of the day, Jen, cause you can scrunch up that piece of paper. You can throw it in the trash.
Jenn DeWall: Yes. And just thinking about, you know for me and how I kind of talk about when we have all those things bumbling around in our heads, it’s like having someone poking a finger in your ribs, and it’s just like this annoying pain that continues on and I love the 15 minutes, the 15 minute kind of schedule at the top of your day to really just focus on that because they feel like you get to release some of that stress. I don’t think enough people realize and make that connection to their mental health and how they feel with how they manage their time, and I love that’s just giving people back that help and boost that we need to even support and sustain our mental health. I think that that’s powerful.
Managing Your Thoughts for Better Focus
Neem James: Jenn, you make a really good point too. One exercise that encourages all your listeners to do is to do a brain dump. So take 15 minutes with a piece of paper and a pen and write down all the crazy things that are floating around in your brain that feel incomplete. All the things your brain keeps saying. Remember to do this. Have you phoned about that? And have you made this appointment? Have you finished that? We filed that. Do you need this? Your brain’s constantly giving you all these things that it wants you to remember. We feel exhausted. So if you can do a brain dump, write them down. Then you can choose what requires your attention. You can calendar the things you need to follow up. You can make an actual plan, but while your brain keeps reminding you, it’s that poke in the ribs. That’s such a good analogy that you use and make it really simple for your brand and say, okay, I get it. Let me just take 15 minutes, write it all down and then you can choose what you want to do about it.
Jenn DeWall: Ah, Yes! I love that. I feel like I need to do that directly after this podcast.
Neem James: Great idea. We all need to do that right away!
Jenn DeWall: Oh, I love that. I’m so inspired for what all I’m going to do, and I’m actively taking notes, so I know that our listeners will be too. I want to talk about one, probably one more concept before we go into your newest book, cause I definitely want to talk about your newest book. Oh my gosh. I feel like we could go on and have a five-hour podcast talking about your book, if not longer. But to wrap up talking about your book Folding Time, I wanted to talk about what it means to maybe increase your investment. What does that mean for when we’re thinking about how we manage our investment?
Neem James: We often think of investment in dollars. We think if I manage my portfolio, if I grow my bank account, if I grow my superannuation, my retirement, my 401k, wherever you are in the world, whatever you call your savings, right? That’s true, and that’s important. But what I believe we need to think about is where we’re investing our time, attention and our energy and are, we’re getting the return we want, and we talk about ROA, return on attention, what you know, what are those relationships you need to invest in that are going to give you the return that you really want and deserve? What are the activities that you can invest in that will really help you drive your results? I had mentioned earlier at the beginning of our podcast, that busy is not necessarily productive. It’s really easy to give your attention to lots of people and lots of things and lots of projects, but yet you don’t get the return, and the challenge as a leader is everybody wants your time.
Everybody wants your attention. It constantly pops into your office, and they say, do you have a second? Do you have a minute? Do you have a second? Do you have a minute? It’s never a second. It’s never a minute. We know that as leaders. And so investments mean really make sure that we are very strategic in the relationships we’re building in the time that we’re investing in getting that return on our attention. So I think you need to choose who deserves your attention, what deserves your attention and how you are going to pay attention to the world.
Jenn DeWall: Okay. And then you go back to focusing and being intentional about that. Because I know that you could probably gather from being on this podcast, I’m a pretty social person. So if someone comes up to me and says, Oh my gosh, Jenn, like how are you doing with this project? Or how was your weekend? And subconsciously, I am in that conversation. I’m not even thinking about everything else. And then all of a sudden, probably even halfway through the conversation, then I’ll start to get the stress where you’re like, Oh my gosh, I’m not doing this. I don’t know how to get out of this right now, and I’m falling behind on my stuff. You know, it is that struggle with, I think when you put some things off. On the face of it, it’s really easy for me to say no. But when you have those organic face to face moments, then it’s harder to say no, because you feel like you have to finish a conversation. I don’t know. I’m sure some people might struggle with that, and just feeling like we don’t feel like we’re paying attention to how we can actually manage our time and set some boundaries in place in that conversation.
ROA – Return on Attention
Neem James: And that’s the key, right? Because people, if we take their investment, pay attention to where their portfolio is in this state. They pay attention to their bank account balance. They balance their checkbook. They spend time protecting that and making sure they’re not wasting money. Or maybe they are totally your choice. But one thing that I want people to consider is that with time, once the time is spent, you never get it back. So you’re never going to get a duo. You don’t get the opportunity to go back and have that conversation to go back, and we don’t have time to travel. We don’t have the luxury of going back and changing how we invested our time yesterday or who we invested our time with. And so, the boundary setting is really important. And one of the things we talk about in both books, Folding Time and Attention Pays, is specific words and choices you can make to invest in the right activities, the right projects, the right people, the right passions you have. So the investment is very, very personal. There’s no prescription. But you do have to understand what is really driving you. What do you really want to achieve? What relationships do you want to invest in? And as I said, go back to that return on your attention,
Jenn DeWall: Return on your attention. I love that ROA versus ROI. People, we have to be thinking about it for ourselves and not for the ROI, purpose of the company. What is it? What benefit are we going to see? So now let’s talk about your newest book. So again, everyone, there’s so much great content in Folding Time, you are going to be able to download that for free. You’ll see it in our show notes. So the book that we and some of the content that we just discussed, but now we’re going to talk about your newest book. Attention Pays, which I feel like I could go 20 different directions talking about so many of the concepts that you had, even in just your first chapter, it is bananas. One of the things that I just loved about the book, attention pays is your distinction between an attention deficit society versus an attention surplus society. What does that mean for the people that don’t haven’t read your book yet?
Neem James: So I think that we– I’ll be really honest with you, one of the phrases that make me very challenged, is people say, Oh, I have ADD, which stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. And that’s not always true. They’re just lazy. And ADD is a real thing. I have a little brother who was medicated for this very young and before it was like a cool thing to say, right? And so I really take issue with this excuse. People will say, Oh, I just have ADD. Maybe you’re just lazy. Maybe you’re just not focusing. Now some people genuinely have it, and I’m not talking to those people. They know how to medicate for that. It’s a true thing. But living in this society where we are constantly being distracted by anything and anyone and we’re tired. We talk about in the book that way over-stressed, over-tired, and overwhelmed.
And the challenge is yes, and I bet people listening to this and especially you know, if you think about things that are happening in the world at the time of recording, we are currently quarantined globally. Because we and also people that are seen as leaders, they’re not just leading their teams and spending 12 plus hours on Zoom. But they homeschooling their little people, they’re taking care of medications for their older parents. And so what’s happening is we are living in this time in history like none other before where these things are magnified. I’ve heard so many executives say to me in the last two weeks. I’m at a level of tired I never even knew was possible. And so attention deficit, I think when we’re in this attention-deficit society where we’re giving away our attention to everything, social media, email, long meetings that don’t even need to occur.
We are, we are wasting time and energy, watching the news for ridiculous amounts of time, rather than finding ways where we could create an attention surplus economy and attention. The surplus economy is where I would love us to aspire to be, where people feel seen, where they feel heard. Where we are directing our attention, and we’re investing in the right thing. See, I always believe that when you pay attention, you reap dividends forever. Because when people feel seen and heard, when we’re, when we’re investing intentional attention, that’s the difference. We’re moving from this transactional way of doing things to this intentional relational way of doing things. And that’s what an attention surplus society is to me.
Why Intentional Attention is the Key to Productivity
Jenn DeWall: So, yeah. So what does intentional attention mean?
Neem James: You know, I think it’s the intention that makes attention valuable, and we have to really choose very consciously how we want to act. So acting very deliberately, and that’s how we transform. It’s about the choices we make and the actions we take, and as leaders more than ever before, we need this intentional attention. Because as I said, anyone and everything will take your attention. Everyone claims they’re busy, busy, like a badge of honor. In most countries I’ve worked in, we think we’re so good, we’re so busy. It’s not necessarily how you’re going to have an impact on the world. So I feel like if you can really choose consciously and act very deliberately, that’s how you invest in the right things. That’s how you transform organizations; that’s how you would transform individuals. That’s how you transform your own results is by being very, very intentional.
Jenn DeWall: You know, when you were just talking about how this is something that’s global that many of us are, you know, play and wear busy like a badge of honor. How do we, as leaders, kind of educate people that that’s not necessarily the most important thing? Because I think there are people that still very much hold on to that and think that if I, you know, you talk about it in your book, if I, as long as you’re in your chair at eight until like six or if you’re there longer, you know, 10 hours, then you must be working really hard. How do you educate people that that’s not necessarily a sign of a top performer or a sign of someone that’s super productive? Because it’s not.
Neem James: This the situation on the planet with COVID-19 changing from people being seen at work to now being seen on a computer screen because we’re doing everything’s remote. People are working from home. And what I’ve noticed in coaching, some of my executives, especially the CEOs, they’ve realized they don’t need to see people see the results. And so as a leader, we have to shift that thinking. We have to measure the outcome, not the activity. We have to think, are they delivering on the projects, are they honoring the commitments? Are our clients happy? Is the team cohesive? Are we collaborating? Hours in a seat does not equal return. It just doesn’t. And I think that old leadership thinking is so archaic. Now in saying that, Jenn, there are some industries where team members need to be together. They need to serve clients. They need to collaborate more.
Neem James: But COVID-19 has highlighted that there are different ways of doing business now than we’ve ever looked at before. And what we are also now challenged with is a completely different way of doing business. So working from home has its own distractions, its own commitments, its own interruptions. I feel like if leaders could start to role model and if they could be more focused on measuring the results rather than the activity. Is the client satisfaction increasing? Are sales increasing? Is the team collaborating more? We have to think about what projects we are monitoring, what passions do we have, the people that we’re serving, and we have to rewrite the rules. We have to change the measurements that we used to have in place. I think that attention is the evolution of productivity. We used to measure productivity, and that is important in some industries, but wouldn’t it be interesting if we started to measure attention? Wouldn’t it be interesting if we started to think about, do my clients feel seen and heard? And the way we can tell that is if they constantly come back to us. Do they refer us? Are they our advocates? We need to move our clients into this position where they become our sales force. They’re our advocates. So it’s moving from transactional to intentional.
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh, I love everything about this. Plus I personally want to sign up for this reeducation and a new focus on outcomes versus that– because I know that early on in my career when I spent time at a Fortune 500 I had someone that was a position above me and we all sat in a cube together and I was doing a portion of his job plus a portion of someone else’s job, and I was working fewer hours, but I initially got flack that I had to work through that people were like, well, Jenn’s coming in at eight-thirty, and she’s leaving right at five every day. Because I was like, why would I sit and stay here? I’m already getting all my stuff done, and I’m glad that he does it, but he’s clearly not as productive. And it was so frustrating. And so I’m just, I’m so happy to sign on because I do think by holding people to those standards, you are also depriving them of maybe opportunities for work-life integration where they could be feeling better and then that recharge time could be better invested back into the organization. Like there are so many benefits from it. So, whatever we can do to help you know, shift that so people can see that that’s not, that perception piece isn’t necessarily the true predictor of performance or attention.
Neem James: Jenn, for many leaders who are listening, you know, I have clients that span from global manufacturing clients, global media clients to local trust companies, and they’ve all had to revisit their policies, their procedures, their culture, their employee engagement. And so as a person in leadership listening to this goal. You’ve got to think through what do I want the employee engagement to be like, how am I going to help educate the shareholders on this new model? How am I going to convince the board? This is something that we need to do? How am I going to partner with my HR person to ensure we have the right policies to support this? What culture am I creating? There are so many questions you can ask yourself, and so we have to think through what it is that we really value as an organization. If it’s our people, then our policies need to represent that. We need to create environments where our people will thrive rather than feel like they’re dying because these policies are so restrictive.
Jenn DeWall: Let’s talk a little bit, and I know that you’ve woven this in, but truly by shifting it to being more, intentional about our intention, what benefits can leaders or organizations see by being more focused and deliberate with their attention.
Paying Attention to Your Team Increases Their Productivity
Neem James: They can attract the top talent. I think that’s not just attraction, but retention of top talent is one of the benefits of paying attention because the employees feel like you see them and hear them, and you value their opinion. Obviously, it increases things like productivity because people want to work with you, and they want to get things done for your business. It obviously increases our sales. However, you measure that, right? So it could be about the add-on sale, it could be about new business, it could be about- there are so many metrics that just make sense. If people are paying attention, if your customers like you are really speaking to them and you’re personalizing it, and you’re tailoring it, and you’re customizing it for them, they are going to feel so much more loyal to you. Therefore, customer loyalty is going to increase. Not only are they going to do that, as I mentioned earlier, but they are also then going to be advocates where they are going to tell others about you.
Neem James: Every leader aspires to the referral business. Every leader wants others to share how great the experience was. It doesn’t matter how much you put into advertising. Advertising is important, but if someone personally recommends you, and I know that if one of your girlfriends recommends a service to you because they had an amazing experience, you’re more likely to take their word than you are if you saw an Instagram ad, correct? And so we want to think through if paying attention, it’s not just about attraction and retention of employees, it’s not just about productivity, it’s about creating these amazing opportunities to have these cascading relationships where your employees also become advocates for you because they start telling everyone else about it. There is a ripple effect that happens when you pay attention to what really matters.
Jenn DeWall: You know, I love the connection that you had made between seeing your customer, focusing your attention there, and then taking action. Because I think oftentimes you might sit in a room thinking about how do we evolve this product to make it better? But we’re not necessarily seeing the customer. We just know that, based on the Excel spreadsheet that our numbers are not where we want them to be. And so I think that you know, it’s important to really, put on that human side of like seeing them. And so I love that connection because that is truly when we, one of the ways you can generate or increase your revenue.
Neem James: Oh, yes. I started my career in banking, and I remember very specifically that when I was in banking, I learned that it costs us $50 to attract a new client to the bank. What I also learned was, if a client had an average of four accounts with us, they were less likely to move to another bank. So I made it my mission to ensure that every client that I served, every customer that came into the bank, that I would check to make sure we not only took care of their savings accounts but also their investment accounts, their insurance, their travel needs. And so I was a huge advocate of the add on sale. And so for me, what I wanted to make sure was, does that customer feel like we can meet all of their needs? How can we help them? I was always referring them to our life insurance person, to our travel department to increase the, you know, to set up savings accounts for school, for the education, for their kids.
But what I saw very quickly in my career is if that customer felt loyal to us, not only would they- and to me, because I would want to develop that relationship where I can personally look after them but also they would then tell the family, they would tell their friends, they would tell business partners. It has this ripple effect. And so one simple act is making a decision that it costs more to get a new customer than it does to provide service for an existing customer. Then totally changes the metrics. So imagine if all of you listening to this, if you have the opportunity, when is the last time you called a client or a customer and said, Hey, thanks for doing business with us. That’s it—no other agenda. Just I still appreciate you doing business with us. Imagine the response people would get. No hidden sale, no hidden agenda. No. Oh, by the way, we have this new product. Nope. Just thank you. Thank you for being a client. Nobody does that anymore, Jenn.
Jenn DeWall: And that’s sad. That’s sad because we do need to be seen. It’s simple.
Neem James: All we want is to be seen and heard. It’s all we want.
Jenn DeWall: Yes. I love that you. So I do life and career coaching outside of leadership development. And so I feel like that’s the number one thing I think I see is that people just want to be heard. And I love how you weave that into how we look at managing our attention. Because I think that that parallel needs to just be, or just that message that people really want to be seen. Like everyone needs to know that that exists in every single aspect. Like we just what to be seen, and even the most bullish of people that think that they don’t care, they care!
Listen with Your Eyes
Neem James: Yeah, we don’t need everybody’s attention. We just need somebody’s attention. You don’t have to be the center of attention, but you have to be the center of somebody’s attention. And so whether you’re listening to this as an introvert or an extrovert, one’s not better than the other. They’re just different. I think attention as a word gets a bad rap because of social media and words we throw around like influencers and followers. And we say, Oh, she just wants attention. So attention has got this bad rap, which is such a shame, and I’m on this mission to change that. I really believe that if we look at things through the lens of intentional attention, if we think about how can I truly make sure that I’m making the right choices and I’m acting very deliberately to help this person feel seen and heard? One of the stories we talk about in the book that people are welcome to read is I learned this lesson from my little friend, Donovan.
Neem James: I remember Donovan and I was sitting in the kitchen of his mom’s house, and we were debating about who is cooler? Is it Superman or Batman? I mean, these are the things you debate with the five-year-old, right? We’re in this very heated debate with two of us, and he kept asking questions, and I thought I was answering him, but he got so annoyed at me because he didn’t think I was paying attention. He got so mad, Jenn, he jumped in my lap. He grabbed my face with these tiny little hands. He turns my face towards him, and he said, this- Neem, listen with your eyes. He was five.
Jenn DeWall: Oh, he was five.
Neem James: I know it took a five-year-old to remind me. We don’t just listen with our ears, we listen with our eyes, we listen with our heart, we listen with our soul, and as leaders, we have a responsibility to listen with our eyes. That’s how we pay attention.
Jenn DeWall: My gosh, I’ve loved our podcast interview. I know we have to wrap up, but I just want to you know, we’re going to offer all of our listeners the ability to access Folding Time from you, but how do they find Attention Pays? Where is that? Where’s that book?
Neem James: Wherever your favorite books are sold, you can find Attention Pays. It’s a global release by Wiley, so you’ll be able to access it wherever you like to buy books from.
Jenn DeWall: I mean, there’s so much content that we didn’t even talk about yet. So I know that you know, for those of you listening, trust me that there’s, there’s a lot that you’re going to be able to find. And I just truly appreciate that you took the time. Like your time to invest in helping our listeners think a little bit differently about how they can improve their quality of life by shifting their attention. And so I know I have to ask you the final question, but before I do that, I just want to say really thank you so much for that because I think what you’ve given all of our listeners is just a gift of being able to look at ourselves and the way we do things in a different way, to hopefully be more meaningful and get that know return on our attention that you talked about.
Neem James: It’s a privilege to share in this way.
What is Your Leadership Habit for Success
Jenn DeWall: So my final question, and it’s the final question we close every podcast with, is what is your leadership habit for success?
Neem James: Listen with your eyes.
Jenn DeWall: I love that. Listen. See people. Well, Neem, thank you so much for joining us today. It was just such a joy to interview you and to hear from you. You are truly just someone that I admire in your expertise, and I’ve just learned so much. So thank you so much for giving us your time today.
Neem James: What a treat to serve your listeners, and I’m so glad we got to do this. Thank you for inviting me on the show. You’ve got a fantastic offering for so many people around the world.
Jenn DeWall: Thank you for listening to today’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast, featuring Neen James. To download your free copy of Folding Time, head over to NeenJames.com/books, And while you’re there, subscribe to her newsletter for more leadership and time management tips. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, remember, share it with a friend or feel free to leave us your review on any of your favorite podcast streaming services.