Job diary: High-level execs hire me to overhaul their daily schedules so they’re less stressed and can get more done. Here are my top 5 tips that can help anyone.

  • Jan Lehman is an executive coach and the owner of CTC Productivity in St. Paul, Minnesota.
  • After working as a software developer and a home organizer, Lehman realized she had a knack for understanding people’s productivity issues and helping them transform their workflow.
  • She started her coaching business in 2009, and now charges up to $1,900 for a series of exclusive one-on-one coaching sessions. 
  • Lehman says her top tips for executives are to block out dedicated focus time, have a three daily priorities, and use ‘do not disturb’ mode when you need to get something done.
  • This is her story, as told to freelance writer Gia Miller.
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Since I began my business 11 years ago, I’ve helped numerous CEOs and executives increase their personal productivity and improve their business’ bottom line. I can quickly identify where people are wasting their time and improve their productivity by at least 10%, as long as they’re willing and interested. Various coaching clients have told me I’ve decreased their stress by 75%, increased their productivity by 40%, and even saved them 37 hours and $30,000 a month. My work has helped improve business’ bottom lines by millions of dollars and trained many people on how to organize their lives and even achieve inbox zero. 

I thought I’d always work in corporate America. 

Before I got married, I was a software developer. My last role was as the Nordic IS/IT director for Kraft Foods in Stockholm, Sweden, and my plan was to return to corporate America when my three kids were older. But by the time my youngest was two, I was craving a deeper purpose beyond being a stay-at-home mom.  

It all started when I lived in Eugene, Oregon and local moms began hiring me to organize their homes because they were amazed by mine. Once I realized this was an entire industry, I launched a part-time business. My business went full-time incredibly fast, even though I wasn’t planning on becoming an entrepreneur.

Since the beginning, I wanted to help corporations with their organizational processes and productivity.

Even as a home organizer, it was clear I had a knack for understanding people’s issues, recognizing an opportunity for improvement, and helping them transform their behavior. My first large corporate client was Martin Ambros in 2011. He’s an inventor who worked at Boeing before starting his own business — a brilliant, amazing guy who was really struggling with his personal productivity. After my help, he saw a huge return on investment, so he asked me to also coach several of his employees. 

After moving to St. Paul, Minnesota in 2013, I rebranded myself as an executive coach and productivity consultant and renamed my business CTC Productivity. It took off from there.

I currently have a team of three excellent subcontractors. One works as my assistant handling bookkeeping and my newsletter, another is a Microsoft expert who helps clients fully leverage their technology, and the third handles process improvement so that businesses can eliminate waste and streamline departments.

My process improvement expert focuses on eliminating wasted time. For example, she’ll review how a company fulfills orders and identify how it can be done faster. She may recommend automating a part of the process or giving someone authority to approve certain purchases or expenses to avoid a lengthy chain of command. She knows exactly how to map a process to spot the waste and be able to propose numerous options to optimize a company’s workflow.

Read more: A New York-based CEO and serial entrepreneur swears by carving out 2 ‘focus days’ a week where he doesn’t attend meetings. Here’s how he works them into his routine.

My morning time is precious and when I do my best thinking.

I’ve always worked from home, so luckily the pandemic hasn’t done much to change my routine. I wake up at 6 a.m., while my teenagers and husband are still asleep, and block out the first two hours of my day for what I call focus time. This is a strategy I also teach my clients, to reserve their best time of day for their deepest, hardest thinking. 

I eat breakfast around 10 a.m., and then go back to work to meet with clients, connect with my team, make sales calls, and more. I make a point of using each day of the week wisely. For example, I know that I can read on a Saturday morning, but I can’t reach out to a client or make sales calls on a weekend. 

My workday ends at 4 or 5 p.m. when my husband and I head to CrossFit. After dinner, my we watch TV, usually historical fiction. I hate wasting time, so I like to watch shows that also teach me a little bit about history. 

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, I often focus on my work as a board member for the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) where I lead their productivity initiative. I joined this organization when I started my business, and it’s been an integral part of my success. It’s great to have people to bounce ideas off of, discuss how to approach difficult clients, and create a community, especially when you’re in an unregulated industry. 

My one-on-one executive coaching package costs $1,900

Jan Lehman

Lehman at a conference held by ACG Minnesota, an association for corporate growth.
Jan Lehman

I provide one-on-one coaching for CEOs and senior leaders in a variety of large corporations and smaller businesses. When I work with them, I focus on their top three to five productivity problems. They must want to be coached or I will not take them on as a client. I cannot change someone’s behavior if they’re not interested in changing. 

During our first call, I ask a lot of questions to understand what resources are available, uncover waste, and determine where they can be more efficient. I typically spot the issues quickly. I toss out a bunch of ideas that I think will work for their situation, but I don’t force them to do what I say. We review my ideas and they decide which ones they will commit to work on over the next month. I call this “homework.”

Every call after the first one is an “Accountability Appointment,” and that’s where the magic happens. Accountability is especially important for senior leaders who often aren’t accountable to anyone, so having a coach keeps it a priority. These appointments are typically spaced a month apart, giving my client time to build these methods as habits into their daily routine. 

When a suggestion doesn’t work we may tweak it or throw it out and try something different. I’m happy if the client gets an A on three of the 10 ideas or gets B’s on all of them. Any progress forward is celebrated.

Some clients want to spread out the coaching calls so they have a longer time for accountability. With them, we may do one-hour calls once a month. Others want to hit it hard and do two-hour calls each time. After about six hours, they’re good to go — that averages to about $300 per hour. 

Once CEOs recognize my value, they hire me to train other employees, provide individual and group coaching, host time management training sessions, and streamline their workflow.

When I began my business, I swapped services with a client who coached public speaking. Originally, my speaking engagements were a sales tactic. But now I’m a professional member of the National Speakers Association (NSA) and regularly give presentations about productivity to small groups and large corporations. These events drive my sales funnel: When I speak to a CEO peer group of about 10 people, I typically gain two new clients. 

It’s surprising how many executives don’t know their employees are floundering. 

When I first began coaching, I was shocked at what people didn’t know. I wasn’t being judgmental, but it was surprising that so many senior leaders were completely unaware of how much time their employees were wasting. I’ve discovered it’s because no one taught them how to delegate, manage projects, balance their time, and be aware of others’ needs. 

I’ve worked with several CEOs who thought their employees were the problem, but after reviewing everything, I realized it was actually the CEO that was the problem. C-suite execs aren’t always self-aware, but most are willing to improve. 

Read more: 7 women entrepreneurs under 40 to watch in 2021, according to investors, founders, and executives

I tailor my coaching strategy to each individual client. 

I’ve done live video coaching for years because I have clients throughout the country. I prefer live video because I want to see their reactions to what I say. Also, it allows me to see if they’re multitasking while I’m coaching. I strongly believe that you can only multitask if one of those tasks doesn’t require executive functioning. So you can tie your shoes and talk, but if you’re reading emails, you can’t also focus on a conversation.

My role is to figure out what works best for each client. What’s their goal? What should they prioritize? What’s getting in their way? How do I get them to the next level?

One executive was addicted to his phone, so I implemented a daily, phone-free walk during lunch that gave him time to think. Another was distracted by emails and notifications at work and young children at home. He chose to do his strategic thinking on Saturday mornings in his office, but he was still distracted. With my guidance, he decided to shift his thinking space to a conference table in his office, and the “new” space solved his problem.

My top five productivity tips

These days, everybody is tracking their KPIs to try and eliminate waste, but they’re not paying attention to wasted time. Here are my top five tips to help you become more productive:

  • Create focus time — Everyone deserves at least one hour a day of quiet, uninterrupted time to do their most important work.  We call this Focus Time. It should be during the time of day when your brain is sharp and your energy level is high. Blocked this on your calendar as a recurring appointment with yourself.
  • Have three top daily priorities — Identify your top three priorities for the day before you look at email. Having a plan is critical. Otherwise, an overwhelming email inbox will be your plan.
  • Stop interruptions — We live in a highly reactionary world where interruptions are commonplace. Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found it can take 23 minutes and 15 seconds just to get back to where you left off when you get interrupted.  So, closing your door, wearing headphones, and turning off all electronic notifications are great strategies to allow you to focus and not lose wasted time.
  • Ditch your C-level  Priorities – Ten years ago, we accomplished our A, B and C priorities. Now it’s no longer feasible because the amount of information we receive doubles every 12-18 months. It’s important to accept the fact that you are not going to get to everything. Be decisive and remove or delegate the C priorities from your inbox and to do list. Effective delegation is one of the best time management strategies ever!
  • Don’t be afraid to put yourself on “Do not disturb” mode – Every company should define what qualifies as an emergency – something that warrants forcing someone else to lose over 20 minutes when they’re interrupted.  Having a common definition and empowering employees to push back if interrupted for non-emergencies can do wonders for productivity and stress levels.

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