President Obama shares the mindset you need to foster in your employees

President Obama surrounded himself with people who 'got stuff done'. This is the mindset every CHRO needs to inculcate, according to Mark Murphy.

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Aug 17, 2023

There’s no shortage of challenges facing companies and their employees these days.

Yet, no matter how bad things get, there’s one mindset that will hold everyone in good stead: “Just learn how to get stuff done.”

In a recent interview with LinkedIn’s editor-in-chief Daniel Roth, former President, Barack Obama offered his most important career advice for young people:

“Just learn how to get stuff done.”

He added: “I’ve seen, at every level, people who are very good at describing problems. People who are very sophisticated in explaining why something went wrong, or why something can’t get fixed. But what I’m always looking for is, no matter how small the problem or how big it is, somebody who says, “Let me take care of that.” If you project an attitude of, whatever it is that’s needed, I can handle it, then whoever’s running that organization will notice.”

While the President’s advice was for young people, there’s not a company, employee, or leader on earth that wouldn’t benefit from an extra emphasis on how to get stuff done.

And for HRDs, the one question you should be asking yourself is this: “How do we foster that mindset through our training, culture, and programs?”

Creating a get stuff done mindset

There are hundreds of tactics that could be employed to cultivate a ‘get stuff done’ mindset. They range from the simple to the complex.

But to show you just how easy it can be, the following are three simple techniques that will foster the right mindset and can be taught to every employee and leader in your organization.

Pause for five minutes before you get stuff done

The moment your eyelids flutter open to the fresh dawn; or before your fingertips dance across the screen of your digital companion in pursuit of emails or alerts, seek the company of a pen and paper instead.

And in the morning quiet, ask yourself this: “What are the one or two things that I need to achieve today in order for this to be a successful day?”

Your to-do list may seem interminable, teeming with tasks of various magnitudes. However, I can say with near absolute certainty that one or two of those tasks are significantly more important than all the others. And those are the tasks that should emerge from your morning reflection.

Having penned your pivotal objectives, now ask yourself: “What could prevent me from accomplishing those things, and how can I overcome those potential roadblocks before they occur?”

No matter how thoughtful your plan for the day, it’s virtually assured that something will emerge to derail your best-laid plans. Thus, you need to anticipate those roadblocks and develop a detour.

Do this, and you’ll have President Obama’s ‘get stuff done’ mindset.

If you need further nudging to start this practice, in a recent report on employee engagement, employees who cultivated the kind of proactive mindset this exercise represents were 136% happier with their careers.

Focus like a laser to get more stuff done

If you spend your days bouncing from one task to another and back again, you’re operating at sub-optimal productivity.

University of Michigan researchers, in a study called “Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching,” found that people lost significant time when they switched from one task to another.

And the more complicated the tasks, the more time was lost.

So, finding uninterrupted concentration time doesn’t just make us more productive, it improves mental wellness.

Tens of thousands have taken a test called “How Do Your Time Management Skills Stack Up?” The data from the quiz reveals that 71% of people report frequent interruptions when they’re working. But the good news is that those who can block out interruptions are 52% more likely to say, “Today was a really successful day.”

Time chunking, also known as time blocking or time batching, is a time management method where employees can divide their day into blocks of time.

Each block is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task or group of tasks.

The idea is to focus on one thing at a time, reducing the inefficiencies of multitasking and frequent context switching.

Most people find that even short blocks are so productive and gratifying that they start searching for ways to expand and increase those windows of peak performance.

Embrace what you can control

Any number of roadblocks will impede employees’ ability to get the maximum amount of stuff done; that’s an unfortunate reality.

But what differentiates those who get as much stuff done as possible is the belief that they control their own success or failure, and that success or failure is not the result of chance or fate.

It’s a psychological characteristic known as an internal locus of control.

There is decades of research demonstrating the benefits of this mindset, and if HRDs want to adopt it they should practice saying: “I’m only going to focus on what I CAN control.”

Those who have this mindset know that when something goes haywire, such as the internet crashing, they don’t need to spend the next hour ruminating and griping. Instead they focus on something they can control and can quickly turn their attention to.

There’s no end to the techniques that can help employees and leaders embrace a mindset of getting stuff done.

The key question for HRDs is the extent to which your training and coaching are fostering that mindset.