Neen James, a speaker, mentor, and trainer who dubs herself a “productivity thought leader,” was a great asset to the businesses where she worked because she knew how to get things done.
Working in the corporate world until she came to the United States from Sydney, Australia, seven years ago after her husband was offered a job at Motorola, she rose quickly in her career because she was so productive.
At her last job in Sydney working for Caltex (the Australian incarnation of Texaco), she remembers the board handing her a project that was 10 months behind, needed to be released in two months, and needed a $10 million budget raised.
She created a project plan and a marketing strategy, hosted a gala dinner to raise money, traveled around the country doing presentations, and rolled out a national conference where she got 100 percent signup and compliance from the franchisees. And the project was out the door in two months.
“The thing that set me apart was that I could get it done,” says James. “For me, that’s what productivity is — just getting it done.”
James will be sharing her secrets on productivity, Tuesday, March 27, from 5 to 7:30 p.m., with the Women in Business Alliance of the Princeton Regional Chamber at the DoubleTree by Hilton of Princeton at 4355 Route 1 South at Ridge Road. Cost: $30.
To register, go to www.princetonchamber.org. For information, call 609-924-1776.
For James, the old way to be productive — making a list and prioritizing items — is history. “I believe that superproductivity is what gets the results,” she says, “and that is about managing your time, attention, and energy.” Because technology has so changed the workplace and its boundaries, new approaches are necessary:
Conquer the world in 15 minutes a day. Because no one has an hour to waste anymore, James advises thinking in 15-minute increments: enough time to make a healthy meal, have a great conversation, make a prospecting call, work out, or check E-mail.
To accomplish this, she sets the timer app on her iPad to help her work in 15-minute blocks. To check her E-mail, for example, she dedicates 15 minutes, four times a day, and does not multi-task while she is doing so.
“We are constantly surrounded by amazing distractions,” she says, “and we need to have a strategy to overcome the distractions.”
Invest 40 minutes in strategy every day. Going by the seat of the pants just doesn’t work anymore. “As women we don’t invest enough time planning or thinking about our role; we just do it,” she says.
So in the morning she recommends that people spend 15-30 minutes focusing on their most strategic activities — what will get them closer to their goals, whether personal or professional. This means identifying their top three “not-negotiable activities” for the day; a personal trainer, for example, might want to train three customers and look for three new ones.
Then at the end of the day she recommends investing 10 more minutes in planning for the next day: ascertaining where the first meeting is, doing any necessary preparatory reading, and checking the E-mail “sent” box to make sure that no important outgoing correspondence has been missed.
This end-of-the-day activity, however, does more than help get the next day started on the right foot. “It means you start creating boundaries between your work and your personal life,” says James.
Say no more often, and say it nicely. Particularly for women, saying no goes against what many have been taught. No is sometimes hard and fast, but it may also mean “not right now”; for example, if someone is calling to tell you about a potential job, you might tell them that you are very interested but are on deadline and will call back in a half hour. About saying no nicely when necessary, James adds, “you have to create boundaries so the people sharing your life are not getting the leftovers.”
Stand up when people stop by your office. “We are being interrupted constantly and have to manage the interruption factor,” says James.
So if people always seem to be wandering in and interrupting you, stand up when someone walks in and look them in the eye. “They don’t know if you’re coming or going,” she says, so they will likely leave more quickly.
Talk time. To make sure things start and stop on time, bring time into the conversation, for example, with comments and phrases like: “in the five minutes we have scheduled, what I would like to do is…”; “in the 15 minutes we have allocated for our time together, here is our agenda”; “in the seven minutes we have left together, can we talk about…”
Talking time also means eliminating language that is not productive. No one pays attention to language like “by close of business, urgent; ASAP.” “Instead talk time,” says James. “Give specific times, dates, and deadlines. For example, ‘Can I have this by 4 o’clock this afternoon, which will give me an hour to turn it around so I can get it out the door at 5?”
Much of the time when James was young, her mother, a single parent, did all kinds of odd jobs. Her stepfather currently teaches first grade, but has taught from kindergarten through adult education during his career. “He would have loved it if I became a teacher,” says James, who quickly adds, “and to some extent I have — it’s just to a different audience.”
Skipping a bachelor’s degree, she went straight to her master’s in business management at Southern Cross University, and the bank where she worked paid her tuition. From banking, she moved to retail and telecommunication, and finally the oil industry.
After moving to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, seven years ago, she says, “It was a bit of a culture shock, moving from Sydney, a city with a beautiful harbor view, to Doylestown, but I love it: I love that we have four very distinct seasons and how hospitable Americans are.”
James has built up her business entirely on her own, having had no connections when she arrived in the United States. Its focus is simple: “I help clever women become commercially smart,” she says. Not only does she speak on productivity as a keynote speaker at corporate or association events, where she provides people with a practicable, implementable strategy, but she also provides a “stiletto mentoring program” for women, working with them on productivity, presentation skills, and personal presence. Often she is helping a person to make a lot of money out of what she knows, helping her to become what she calls an “infopreneur.”
Everyone has a productive style, suggests James, and knowing what it is is critical. She herself is a “morning bird” and a “crammer.” Translated, this means that she works best between the hours of 7 a.m. and 1 p.m. and that she is often planning what she needs to do in her head, but only executing her plan “crammed” at the end.
Productivity is essential because we are all being asked to get more done with less resources. A person who learns to be superproductive can “get it done so you can get on with it,” says James. Get on with what? “It’s different for all of us: spending time with people you care about; pursuing things outside of work, like vacations and hobbies; and serving more in your community.”